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The Cool Coin: Part 1 - 1834-1933 Gold Type Set

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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 which focuses on “cool coins” struck from 1834 through 1933. This eliminates such costly gold types 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 which 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. Often times, 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)

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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 and which is surprisingly available and in the case of the 1849-O, downright affordable?

Type Two Gold Dollar (1854-1856)

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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)

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The traditional type set choice is a common 1880’s 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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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-1000 mintage date from the 1880’s such as an 1883 or an 1885?

Classic Head Half Eagle (1834-1838)

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Almost every type set I’ve seen features an 1834 Plain 4 in high grades. Neat coin but boring! 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)

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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)

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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)

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So…I’m thinking a Carson City half eagle would be the perfect Cool Coin for this type. How about a nice, frosty PCGS MS62? 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)

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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?

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the March/April Rare Coin Market Report!


This article is from the current January/February 2020 Rare Coin Market Report. To continue reading this issue, please visit the digital version for the Current Issue. You will be prompted to input the email address linked to your PCGS account. All current PCGS Collectors Club members will have free access to the complete digital Rare Coin Market Report. To purchase a single print issue or 1-year subscription, please visit the RCMR Homepage. If you are not a PCGS Collectors Club Member and wish to join please visit the PCGS membership page at www.pcgs.com/join.

Coin Collecting: Basics Indian Half Eagles (1908-1929) Liberty Half Eagles (1839-1908) Early Half Eagles (1795-1838) Three Dollar Gold Pieces (1854-1889) Indian Quarter Eagles (1908-1929) Liberty Quarter Eagles (1840-1907) Early Quarter Eagles (1796-1839) Gold Dollars (1849-1889)

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