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Why Don’t More People Collect 20th Century U.S. Gold Coins by Date?

By Doug….

Why Don’t More People Collect 20th Century U.S. Gold Coins by Date?

So why, then, do these series lag such non-gold 20th-century designs as the Lincoln Cent, Buffalo Nickel, Mercury Dime and Walking Liberty Half Dollar when it comes to numbers of active set collectors?

I can think of a number of reasons. Some are pretty obvious while some are pretty far-fetched and I’m throwing them out there only to encourage debate. Here are some of the reasons I came up with:

1. 20th century U.S. gold is typically marketed as type coins and not by date. Traditionally, people have viewed coins like Indian Head half eagles as something you just need one of, not dozens. Simultaneously, higher-grade 20th-century gold coins are frequently sold more as “investments” than collectible coins. Over the last two decades, I have seen many collectors burst on the scene in a specific 20th century series only to flame out and sell their coins back a year or two later. The Steve Duckors and Austin Fursts of the 20th-century gold world are a lot rarer than their quick-in, quick-out counterparts.

2. “They all look the same.” A new collector once told me this when he decided not to continue with the Indian Head eagle set that I was helping him build. Now, I don’t agree with this. If you become a student of, say, the Indian Head half eagle series it becomes clear that a 1911-D looks a lot different than a 1916-S. Its struck differently, has a different texture and has different coloration as well. But these subtleties are often lost on novice collectors.

3. There’s too much difference in value for barely distinguishable quality. For many key date 20th-century U.S. gold coins, the difference in price between an MS64 and an MS65 can be huge. As an example, an MS64 1913 Saint-Gaudens double eagle is worth $7,500 or so while a no-question asked MS65 is worth over $50,000. It takes a real leap of faith for a new collector to pay a 7x premium for a difference in quality that he not only doesn’t see but probably doesn’t understand. The creation of CAC has made it a little less scary for a new collector to pay huge premiums for MS65’s but from personal experience I know that the value for Gem coins just isn’t always there.

4. There is no up-to-date reference work. David Akers wrote a terrific book on 20th-century United States gold but it was published in 1988 and the information is out-of-date (not to mention that the book is out-of-print and fairly scarce). If a new expert were to take this book and update it with information that was relevant to the current coin market, this would be a huge shot in the arm for 20th-century gold.

5. There is no sense of nostalgia inherent with these coins.
People buy coins like 1909-S VDB Cents or 1916-D Dimes because they couldn’t afford one when they were ten years old and filling holes in their blue Whitman folders. No one is haunted by the 1927-D Saint that they couldn’t save enough money from their paper route to afford when they were a kid.

6. High-grade 20th-century gold coins are very expensive. It is a pretty serious financial commitment to collect Saints in Gem or Indian half eagles in MS64 and up. This obviously limits the number of people who can collect these coins.

7. Affordable grade 20th-century gold is ugly. OK, maybe not “ugly.” But you’ll have a hard time convincing me that an Indian Head gold coin in EF and AU grades is remotely attractive. This is not the case with Liberty Head gold coins which is really attractive with limited wear.

8. Pricing information for many 20th-century gold coins is hard to come by. Yes, its easy to figure out what a common date Saint is worth in a PCGS MS64 holder. But its not so easy to determine what a 1913 is worth in an NGC MS65 holder versus a PCGS MS65 holder versus a PCGS MS65 holder with CAC approval. If someone published accurate pricing information on the 20th-century series, I believe it would jump-start collector interest.

9. There are few “go to” retail dealers for better date 20th-century gold. If you collect 19th-century Liberty Head gold, there are some obvious candidates who to buy from (and I’d like to think that DWN is one of them). The person who, in my opinion, is the sharpest dealer for rare date, 20th-century gold is Kevin Lipton and Kevin is a wholesale dealer who probably is going to be hard for many collectors to deal with as he has no website.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this blog, 20th-century gold coins deserve to have more date collectors than they currently do. These are attractive, interesting coins. They are within reasonably short-lived series and unless you attempt a Gem set, they are within the price range of many collectors. I’d be curious to know what your take is on why they are not as popular as Lincoln Cents or Mercury Dimes and invite you to send me an email at [email protected] with your input.

Doug Winter
Doug Winter
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].

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  1. My own hunch is that price first and foremost drives out most collectors. A complete set of Saints, even ignoring 1933, would be a monumental task with a price tag in the millions. A set of Indian $10s is also unfathomable to most, given that 1907 alone has two coins that cost as much as a house and a well-equipped luxury car. The easiest by far is the Indian $2.50, with the key being the 1911-D. I am surprised we don’t see this set come up more often, because anyone who can afford and find a good 1911-D quarter eagle can find all the others. Indian $5s have the 1929, a stopper that runs around $20k in reasonable “I’ve got one for my set” grade.

  2. Agree with the above comment and of the other reasons listed, I believe it is also #7. The trend in collecting is moving away from sets which include average to less than superior coins for the sake of completion. I don’t see the other reasons listed as being much of a factor at all.

    Another reason not listed by this article is that even the $2.5 Indian is not particularly price competitive with the alternatives. It is affordable by US standards but with the internet, there are far more compelling alternatives for the same or less money.

    A second reason not listed by this article is that the sets that can be completed aren’t remotely scarce. The $5 Indian is somewhat more difficult (especially applying the narrow and arbitrary US collecting criteria) but the $2.5 Indian could literally be completed in one day with specimens that most collectors would have considered acceptable in the past, if not currently. The biggest challenge with both is having the funds to buy them.

  3. As to #4, fortunately there is Dave Bowers’ Whitman Guide Book on Double Eagle Gold Coins (which also covers the older Coronet series), and Mike Fuljenz’s 20th Century Indian Gold Coins as newer resources. Rodger Burdette is apparently working on a modern gold project as well.


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