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Hurdles for Indian Head gold sets

Indian Head gold coins: hard to grade, even harder to find key dates. This could be the motto of the famous quarter eagle ($2.50) and half eagle ($5) gold coinage series.

Fred Dashevsky of SDL Numismatics, Hilton Head, S.C., said that Indian Head gold pieces are notoriously difficult to accurately grade.

“It was an odd decision by the United States Mint at the time to make the Indian Head gold pieces’ design incused instead of raised,” he said. “It’s easy to see the details when they are raised. When the details are punched in, it’s difficult to grade the surfaces.”

Collectors can easily confuse an AU-58 example with an MS-63, he said.

Denomination: $2.50 Weight: 4.18 grams Diameter: 18 mm Composition: .900 gold Actual Gold Weight: .1202 oz Dates Minted: 1908-1915, 1925-1929 Designer: Bela Lyon Pratt

Denomination: $2.50
Weight: 4.18 grams
Diameter: 18 mm
Composition: .900 gold
Actual Gold Weight: .1202 oz
Dates Minted: 1908-1915, 1925-1929
Designer: Bela Lyon Pratt

“If you were to put the two side by side, most people wouldn’t even be able to tell the difference, he said.

“If you’re experienced in grading them, you can pick up on the wear that shows on some of the details.”

Because they are difficult to grade, he recommends that collectors get them certified.

“There’s a big difference between a common date MS-63 half eagle, typically around $1,200 to $1,500, and an AU-58 half eagle at $600, Dashevsky said.

“If you buy one at MS-63 prices and later decide to sell it, only to hear from the dealer that it’s AU-58, that’s not the time to discover it’s inaccurately graded.”

Gary Rosencrans, owner of Gary’s Coins, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis., said that certain Indian Head gold pieces are better if certified.

“They are tough to grade,” he said. “The $2.50s are even tougher than the $5 because they are so small.”

It’s important to get the key dates, like both the 1911-D quarter and half eagles, certified.

“The 1911-D is key,” Rosencrans said. “The problem is that the mintmark on 1911-D quarter eagles is a little soft. Customers don’t like that. You almost have to tilt it in the light to see the mintmark clearly.

“I think they’d have to be slabbed to sell well. A slabbed 1911-D quarter eagle will bring in more than an uncertified one.

“About 50 percent of the 1911-D quarter eagles that I’ve seen are slabbed.”

Denomination: $5 Weight: 8.36 grams Diameter: 21.6 mm Composition: .900 gold Actual Gold Weight: .2403 oz Dates Minted: 1908-1916, 1929 Designer: Bela Lyon Pratt

Denomination: $5
Weight: 8.36 grams
Diameter: 21.6 mm
Composition: .900 gold
Actual Gold Weight: .2403 oz
Dates Minted: 1908-1916, 1929
Designer: Bela Lyon Pratt

Dashevsky said that when it comes to the 1911-D quarter eagle, buyers should look to a very fine (VF) or extremely fine (XF) example.

“You can always upgrade then,” he said. “I’d rather have a VF-20 1911-D quarter eagle than an MS-60 1910. I’d go for a lesser grade key date than a high grade common one. The most common coins will always be available.”

Investors look to the 1911-D quarter and half eagles because they tend to hold their value, he said.

“Due to rarity, the key dates like the 1911-D don’t move based on the gold price because their price has exceeded the price of gold,” Dashevsky said. “An MS-60 1911-D (quarter eagle) will bring in around $5,100.

“We’re ready to buy one whenever a good one comes up.

“No matter how the price of gold fluctuates, the key dates will hold their value.”

Rosencrans said that some other dates like the 1909-O and 1909-S half eagles are hard to find and expensive.

“The 1909-O half eagle is a tough coin, especially in any grade above XF,” he said “Very few dealers ever seem to have them.

“For the 1909-S, the price between extremely fine and brilliant uncirculated is doubled. I was looking for an 1909-S in a certain grade and I had a hard time looking for one. I spent the better part of a year on it.”

Higher grade Indian Head gold pieces can be difficult to find, but worth it, he said.

“Those that are collecting Indian Head gold pieces as an investment want them in MS-62 or -63,” he said. “You try to buy the best one you can find.”

Complete sets of Indian Head gold also sell well, he said.

“The last complete (circulated) set of Indian Head quarter eagles we had sold for $5,100,” Rosencrans said.

Dashevsky said that the common date Indian Head gold pieces can be easily found and purchased on today’s market.

“It’s not hard to create a set except for the three to four sticklers,” he said. “Most quarter and half eagles have followed the price of gold.

“In 2011, when the price was high, we saw prices go up for Indian Head gold pieces. As it came back down, those prices came down.

“With gold where it’s at now, it’s a good time to buy.”

Rosencrans said that most of the Indian Head quarter and half eagles he sells are circulated, common dates.

“Extremely Fine are where we sell most of them, where common date ones are not much more over their gold value,” he said. “Ones like the 1909 quarter eagle are everywhere.”

Whether collector or investor, there are plenty of buyers for Indian Head gold pieces, he said.

“People like the design,” Rosencrans said. “For people who just want to buy gold, we’ve always steered them to Indian Head gold pieces.”

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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