Ten Affordable Pioneer Gold Types by Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
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Yes, it takes deep pockets and lots of patience to specialize in Territorial or Pioneer gold. There are numerous six-figure coins, many of which are either almost never available or come with lots of problems.
But there are a number of issues that are perfect for the more casual collector. These range in price from $3,500 to $25,000+ and the majority of these are reasonably easy to locate.
It should be noted that there is really no such thing as a “common” Territorial or Pioneer gold coin, not when natural color and choice, original surfaces are factored. Let’s say a common issue has a total number of coins known in the 250-350+ range. There are likely not more than 10% of the extant coins that I would describe as “Choice” and at any given time probably half of these–or more–will be off the market in tightly-held collections.
C. BECHTLER $1.00, N REVERSED; PCGS AU55 CAC GOLD STICKER. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)
Christopher Bechtler Pioneer Gold $1, N Reversed, K-4 and August Bechtler $1 27 Grains, 21 Carats, K-24
Gold coins were struck by the Bechtler family of minters from the early 1830s through the early 1850s. Coins were made in both North Carolina and Georgia in three denominations: dollars, quarter eagles and half eagles. There are close to 30 different varieties and these are popular with collectors both as type coins and by variety. Given their southern heritage, many Charlotte and Dahlonega specialists include a few pieces in their sets.
The first affordable variety, designated as Kagin-4 in the standard reference, is the C. Bechtler dollar, which can be distinguished by the N in ONE on the obverse being reversed and 28 G prominently displayed on the reverse.
There are hundreds of these known and they are most often seen in the lower-to-mid AU grades. This variety is scarce in the lower Uncirculated grades, rare in MS62 and very rare finer. A nice AU example will cost around $4,000-5,000 while a nice MS62 can be located with some patience at around $8,000-9,000.
A. BECHTLER $1.00, 27 GRAINS, 21 CARATS; PCGS MS62 CAC
The August Bechtler $1, designated as K-24, is the single-most-available Territorial or Pioneer gold issue. It has a plain edge and is identifiable by its weight and fineness being 27 grains and 21 carats. Many examples are seen in the AU grades and they can be bought for as little as $3,000-4,000. They are reasonably common in the lower Uncirculated grades and cost around $5,000 for an MS62.
In properly graded MS63 and higher, this issue is rare. Examples exist with excellent color and these are worth a premium.
1849 Norris, Gregg, Norris $5.00 Pioneer Gold, K-1 and K-2
This is regarded as the very first California Territorial issue and varieties are known with a Plain Edge and a Reeded Edge; the latter is scarcer. They were struck in Benicia City and it appears that fairly large quantities were made, given the number of survivors.
1849 NORRIS GREGG NORRIS $5.00
This is not an inexpensive type as most of the AU50 to AU53 coins are priced in the low five figures. But it is such a historic issue that it should be included in basic California-themed Territorial or Pioneer gold sets.
Many NGN half eagles have been cleaned and examples with good color and natural mint luster command strong premiums over the typical washed-out pieces.
1849 Moffat $5.00, K-4
No history of the coinage of the Gold Rush era is complete without the inclusion of the firm of Moffat and Company. Their first coins were half eagles and eagles dated 1849 and 1850. The half eagles are common and I would select an 1849 over an 1850 given its first-year status.
1849 MOFFAT $5.00, PCGS AU55 CAC
The Moffat half eagles have a design very similar to the regular issues of this era but the reverse legend indicates that they were struck from California Pioneer gold. This issue saw extensive circulation and can be found in grades as low as Very Good to Fine (at a cost of $2,500-3,000+). A nice Extremely Fine will cost $4,000-5,000 while an About Uncirculated should be buyable in the $6,000-8,000 range.
1852/1 Humbert $10, K-8
Augustus Humbert was intimately involved with the production of private gold coinage in California from 1851 through 1855 and he produced numerous significant issues. His first few pieces were massive Octagonal $50 coins that are too expensive for most beginner collectors. An interesting issue that is affordable is the 1852/1 Humbert $10 Pioneer gold coin. The normal date variety of this is more available but I prefer the overdate.
1852/1 HUMBERT $10.00 PCGS AU55; IMAGE COURTESY OF PCGS COINFACTS
The 1852/1 saw considerable use in local commerce as the majority of those that survived the melting pot show heavy circulation. I have handled a number in the VF25-VF35 range and these are still priced at less than $10,000. A nice Extremely Fine isn’t generally available for less than $12,500-15,000. All 1852/1 Humbert $10s show a dramatic bisecting crack on the reverse.
If the overdate proves too expensive or too difficult to locate, a normal date in EF40 to EF45 should prove fairly easy to acquire at around $6,000-8,000.
1852 US Assay Office of Gold/Humbert $10, .884 THOUS variety, K-12a
This design was produced in both 1852 and 1853, and the former much more available than the latter, which is very rare and underrated. This and the next Pioneer gold coin (#7, below) are often collected alongside regular issues of this era as they are considered official issues of the U.S. government.
1852 HUMBERT $10.00, NGC EF40 CAC
Extremely Fine pieces are available in the $5,500-6,500 range and nice About Uncirculated pieces can be purchased for less than $10,000.
The single-finest-known is the amazing NGC MS68 from the Newman Collection, which brought over a million dollars in April 2013. It was Augustus Humbert’s personal coin and it is considered the finest California gold coin of any date in terms of condition and appearance.
1852 Wass, Molitor & Co. Large Head $10, K-4
This firm struck half eagles and eagles in 1852 as well as eagles, double eagles, and round fifty-dollar pieces in 1855. The issue seen most often is the 1852 Large Head eagle.
1852 WASS, MOLITOR & CO. LARGE HEAD $10.00, PCGS AU50. IMAGE COURTESY OF PCGS COINFACTS
I personally love the design of this issue with its somewhat crude but attractive depiction of Liberty on the obverse.
The 1852 Large Head $10 is quite rare in Uncirculated grades but it is reasonably easy to locate in the Extremely Fine grades. A choice piece should be obtainable in the $10,000-12,500+ range.
1853 US Assay Office of Gold $20, .900 THOUS variety, K-18
After the dissolution of Moffat & Co. in 1852, the firm of the United States Assay Office of Gold became a leading minter in Gold Rush San Francisco. This firm struck $10 and $50 pieces in 1852 as well as $10 and $20 pieces in 1853. Varieties of 1853 $20s are known with 884 THOUS and 900 THOUS on the scroll. The 900 THOUS variety is the more available.
1853 US ASSAY $20.00, .900 THOUS; PCGS AU53
This is among the most common of all California Gold Rush issues and it exists in significant quantity in Uncirculated grades. There are a few hundred known in MS60 through MS63 and examples can be located in MS64. A small number exists in Gem and PCGS has even graded an example in MS66. The lowest grade that this issue usually is found is EF45 and this will cost $7,000-8,000. An AU50 or an AU53 won’t cost much more than this and I suggest you wait for one in this range.
1854 Kellogg $20, K-1
In 1854, before the opening of the new Federal mint, the recently created firm of Kellogg and Company filled the void for circulating gold coinage in San Francisco which was caused by the close of the US Assay of Gold. Kellogg and Company struck double eagles in 1854 and 1855, which saw active use in the booming Gold Rush economy.
1854 KELLOGG $20.00 PCGS AU50 CAC
The 1854 is a bit more available than the 1855 and, to me, it is a bit more interesting due to its status as a first-year-of-issue. It is sometimes seen in grades as low as EF45 (which will cost around $7,000), but it is more often found in About Uncirculated. An average quality piece in the AU50 to AU53 range should be obtainable for $12,500-15,000
1860 Clark Gruber $5
The firm of Clark, Gruber & Company produced gold coins in four denominations in 1860 and 1861. The most often seen is the 1860 quarter eagle but I would suggest the half eagle as a type coin given its larger size and its better overall strike.
1860 CLARK GRUBER $5.00, PCGS AU55 CAC
The design of this coin is very similar to regular issue half eagles. The reverse states that the coins were struck from Pikes Peak Gold and the location of the firm in Denver.
Nice About Uncirculated 1860 Clark Gruber half eagles are easily located and they cost around $6,000-8,000. In lower Uncirculated grades, this issue is scarce and an average quality piece will cost $10,000-15,000. For the collector with a limited budget, I would suggest a coin graded AU53 to AU55.
The following chart lists the 10 coins that make up the basic Territorial and Pioneer gold set described in detail above. Please note that the price range is for average quality coins. Choice pieces (especially those approved by CAC) will sell for significant premiums.
If you would like to assemble this basic 10 coin set of Pioneer gold coinage, please contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at (214) 675-9897.
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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 the 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.