HomeCollecting StrategiesWhat Does a Virtually “Perfect” 19th Century Gold Coin Look Like?

What Does a Virtually “Perfect” 19th Century Gold Coin Look Like?

By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com

The majority of the coins I deal with are imperfect. They were struck by crude machinery, in often difficult circumstances, by often-times inexperienced mint personnel. If I had to guess, I’d say the average grade of the coins I sell is in the Extremely Fine-45 to About Uncirculated-55 range. I sell coins which are “gently used.”

But every now and then, I handle a coin that is not only “unused,” but it is superb quality- a virtually “perfect” 19th century gold coin. I recently handled a PCGS MS68+ 1884 gold dollar approved by CAC, which was as close to perfect as any 19th century American gold coin I’ve handled in some time. I’d like to share some thoughts about the appearance of this specific coin, discuss it within the context of the Type Three gold dollar series, and share some random thoughts on originality and eye appeal.

The late-date Type Three dollars—those issues struck from 1880 through the end of this series in 1889—share a number of characteristics. They all have fairly low mintages but fairly high survival rates. These issues were not well-circulated and for many of these dates, examples below AU55 to AU58 are all but unheard of.

Of the ten late-date Type Three gold dollars, the rarest in terms of overall rarity is the 1884. It sells for just a small premium over a really common date like an 1888 or 1889 but it is actually much scarcer. Of the 5,230 struck, there are around 500 known with nearly all in the MS62 to MS64 range. In MS65 and even MS66, this date is not a big deal and PCGS has graded enough in MS67 (20 coins as of September 2014) that most any collector who wants one can find one. MS68’s are another story, and PCGS has graded only seven in this grade plus this one example in MS68+. NGC has graded an 1884 dollar in MS69, and I’m sure that coin is amazing, but I’m feeling pretty confident in saying right now that this PCGS MS68+ is the single finest known 1884 gold dollar.

What makes this coin an MS68+? Is it really better than an MS67; enough to justify it being worth close to four times what a nice PCGS/CAC MS67? If so, how, what and why?

I generally avoid buying common coins in uncommon grades, and if I were offered an 1888 or 1889 gold dollar in MS68+ I would likely pass. But I quickly pulled the trigger on this 1884. My decision was made easy by the coin’s appearance. It has eye appeal to spare; a result of its great surfaces, lovely color and the “look” which is hard to put into words but which speaks volumes to me. This coin didn’t have the appearance of a “typical” dipped high grade dollar of this era. It was dark and filmy and I mean “filmy” in a good way; more on this below.

Let’s look at the components of grading which combine to give this coin its Mint State rating and its eye appeal factor. First is strike. Strike shouldn’t be much of a factor on late date Type Three gold dollars as these tend to be extremely well-struck. This coin is no exception, and it is fully detailed at the centers and borders. The second factor is surface preservation. A close examination of the surfaces reveals a single light scrape on the upper obverse below ES in STATES. Other than this, the coin is perfect. The next factor is luster. This coin has amazing rich, thick frosty luster which is unbroken and which clearly has never been tampered with. This issue tends to have very good luster, but even by the standards of 1884 gold dollars, this piece has better than average luster. The fourth factor is coloration. You can see from the attached photo that this coin has very pronounced coppery-russet color, which is deeper at the borders than the centers. The color is “right” for the issue and it has a pattern and hues that is clearly natural.

One thing about this coin which is interesting is its “filmy” appearance. Generally, a coin which is filmy has negative connotations, and this film might be putty or some unnatural, applied chemical. But a number of Type Three gold dollars have what is known as “cellophane” toning from storage in old cellophane holders. These coins were often given as Christmas presents and stored for many years in these clear holders which impart a very recognizable “film” over the surfaces. If I saw this same sort of film on, say, an 1854-D gold dollar, I’d be suspicious. But knowing that this look is not uncommon on high-grade business strike gold dollars from the 1880’s, I regard it as another “plus” factor in this coin’s overall appearance.

As a collector, one of the things you should do is educate yourself as much as possible about the series you collect. Focus less on trying to learn what is the difference between an MS67, an MS68, and an MS69, and more on the characteristics which make a coin special for its respective issue. Learn about things like cellophane-style toning on the surfaces of Type Three gold dollars, and why this is a good thing. Most of all, find a visual “look” which appeals to you and try to stick to this as much as possible when you search for coins.

And whatever became of this 1884 gold dollar? I sold it to a prominent collector who is currently working on the finest-known set of gold dollars, and he is thrilled with his new acquisition.

Doug Winter
Doug Winterhttps://www.raregoldcoins.com
Doug Winter founded Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN) in 1985. The nationally renowned firm specializes in buying and selling rare United States gold coins. He has written over a dozen books, including the standard references on Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans gold coinage, and Type 1 Liberty Head Double Eagles. Douglas has also contributed to the A Guidebook of United States Coins, 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. He is a member of the PNG, the ANA, the ANS, the NLG, CAC, PCGS, and NGC - among other professional affiliations. Contact Doug Winter at [email protected].

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Bullion Sharks Silver

L and C COIN Specials

NGCX Holders and Grading