By Doug Winter – RareGoldcoins.com
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On the front page of my website (www.raregoldcoins.com) you will see the tagline “Coins with Character”. This has been the official motto of Douglas Winter Numismatics for many years, and I am often asked by collectors “what are coins with character?” There is no simple answer, but I feel that the US gold coins I sell are blessed with one or more of the following characteristics which makes them special.
Original “Skin” and Choice Surfaces
In most instances, it is not possible to determine if a coin is 100% original as even coins with a “crusty” appearance may have been lightly cleaned decades ago. As a dealer who appreciates coins with an original appearance, I tend to use the descriptive term “original” probably more than I should (perhaps it would be better to call most crusty coins “seemingly original” or “likely unmolested”). But I personally feel such coins have far more character than bright, clearly dipped, or “processed” pieces.
I also like US gold coins with choice surfaces, especially those which are known to come with abundant abrasions. As an example, New Orleans eagles from the 1888 to 1906 era were shipped loose in bags to Europe, and nearly all survivors are extensively marked. To me, an 1895-O eagle in MS62 with far fewer marks than usual is a coin with character even though it isn’t a great rarity or an especially valuable issue.
In series like Morgan Dollars, you can have a common $100 1881-S sell for $2,500, $5,000, or even way more if it shows spectacular multi-hued coloration. Gold coins do not tend to show such vivid coloration but every now and then, a United States gold coin will show vivid and indisputably authentic color which may feature hues such as deep orange, red or even purple.
This color is typically the result of an unusual environment for long-term storage, such as a leather pouch (with a high concentration of tannic acids), a particular type of wood coin cabinet, or storage in paper with high sulfuric acid content. If there is proof that the coin was stored in such an environment, all the better.
A coin with character need not have wild reddish leather pouch color. It can be more subtle like an 1840s Dahlonega half eagle with a nice dark, even green-gold color that is absolutely “right” for the date, or a San Francisco eagle from the late 1850s with rich reddish-orange hues which aren’t enhanced.
Due to a proliferation of “special” labels and insignificant provenances, the concept of pedigree has been warped for many collectors. Leaf through the pages of a coin auction and you will see pedigrees that are known to virtually no one except for the (original) owner and perhaps an inner circle of specialists. But important pedigrees are essential to giving a coin a sense of character that a non-pedigreed coin may lack.
In the arena of rare gold coins, there are a handful of pedigrees that mean something to me. These include Eliasberg, Bass, Norweb, Pogue, Duckor, Battle Born, Akers, Elrod, Duke’s Creek, and Newman. Other “good” gold coin pedigrees include the S.S. Central America and S.S. Brother Jonathan shipwrecks and institutional collections.
To me, a good pedigree means a number of things. First, if a specific coin was good enough for a great collector like Steve Duckor or Brent Pogue, then it’s likely good enough to be in any important collection that I am working on. Secondly, I can look at an image of a coin in an older catalog (like Norweb) and see how the coin looks in 2015 as compared to its appearance in 1988. Finally, I can compare the grade of a coin in its current holder with how it might have been graded when it was first slabbed by PCGS for the Bass sales in 1999 and 2000.
There are essentially two types of rarity. The first is grade rarity and like its name implies this is based on a coin being rare because of its level of preservation. An example of this would be a 1901-S Liberty Head half eagle in MS67; an issue that exists by the thousands in lower Uncirculated grades but which is very rare in mega-grades. An example of an absolute rarity is an 1864-S which is rare in any grade from Very Good to Mint State and for which the population of the total date is likely just two to three dozen.
Any attractive coin which is an absolute rarity is likely to qualify as one with “character.”
To me, a coin that is both an absolute rarity and a grade rarity is the most special. Staying with the 1864-S half eagle, one of my all-time favorite US gold coins is the Norweb/Bass PCGS MS65+ example which is unique in Uncirculated. This coin has superb original skin and surfaces, lovely natural color, a significant pedigree, and every type of rarity in one package.
In my opinion, coins with a significant historical association or with numismatic significance are more likely to be candidates for the “with character” classification.
Certain United States gold coins have a great background story. An example is the 1848 CAL. quarter eagle which was struck with gold from the original discovery of ore from the California gold fields. Another example is the 1861-D gold dollar which was conclusively struck by the Confederacy after they seized the Dahlonega mint.
Other gold coins are numismatically significant. Examples of this are the 1838-C and 1838-D half eagles: the very first branch mint issues of this denomination as well as the first gold coin made at the Dahlonega mint in the case of the 1838-D.
These are the sort of coins that have multiple levels of demand and this is another important element of “character.”
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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 “Red Book”) 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.