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Gold dollars offer history, challenge

Don’t let the gold dollar coin’s small size fool you. There’s a big appeal to owning a historical and low mintage denomination.

Gold dollars were minted from 1849 to 1889. Three different designs were used over that period, all made by chief engraver James B. Longacre. The type one design ran from 1849 to 1854, the type two from 1854 to 1856 and the type three from 1856 to 1889.

A 1849 type one Liberty Head gold dollar coin.

A 1849 type one Liberty Head gold dollar coin.

Type one dollars are 13 millimeters in diameter while type two and three are 15 millimeters. All three types weigh just 1.67 grams.

Douglas Winter, owner of Douglas Winter Numismatics, Portland, Ore., said the market for gold dollar coins is good.

“Gold dollars are popular, particularly the Charlotte, Dahlonega and San Francisco issues,” he said. “It’s recently been jump started by the sale of the Dr. Steven Duckor collection by Heritage Auctions at the 2015 ANA show. It was the best collection of high grade gold dollars assembled and it broke a lot of sales records.”

Case in point: The collection’s 1855-D certified PCGS MS-64 with CAC sticker sold for $164,500, a new record.

On today’s market, high quality gold dollars are in demand, he said.

“Nice, quality collector coins will sell,” he said. “Super, one-of-kind examples will do very well. It’s the common dates that may have issues selling.”

The series offers some extremely tough dates, he said.

A 1855 type two Indian Head gold dollar coin.

A 1855 type two Indian Head gold dollar coin.

“Tough to find examples include Dahlonega minted coins with the exception of the 1849-D,” he said. “The 1855-D and 1856-D in particular are tough. The Charlotte issues are also hard to find.”

Other gold dollars in demand include Civil War issues and those with strong eye appeal, he said.

“Other Civil War issues are in demand like most other Civil War-era coins in recent years,” he said. “The Philadelphia coins come nicer where a collector can find ones with a nice strike and luster.”

Although gold dollars vary in how well struck they can be, Winter said to not let that be a deciding factor.

“Strike is a very unimportant factor when valuing and grading a U.S. gold dollar,” he said.
Instead, he said to seek out higher grades with good eye appeal.

“With a coin that small, it’s easy to see that they didn’t circulate that much,” Winter said. “Buy the best coin you can.”

Lee Sanders, a numismatist of over 50 years who focuses on gold coins, said he recommends gold dollar buyers seek out certified examples.

“If you’re buying a gold dollar coin, buy a PCGS or NGC certified example,” he said. “Don’t buy a raw example, since many tend to have problems like cleaning, hairlines, scratches, repair work or signs of jewelry mounting.”

A 1858 type three Indian Head gold dollar coin.

A 1858 type three Indian Head gold dollar coin.

Assembling sets of gold dollars can be challenging, he said.

“Unlike a $2.50 Indian Head gold coin set where you can put together a full set, though the 1911-D will be pricey, at a reasonable cost, it’s hard enough to even find gold dollars,” he said. “If someone were to collect a set of these, they could do well in the long term. This wouldn’t be a set you’d sell in two years’ time. It’d be a set you held onto for the long run.”

Other gold dollar set options exist, such as assembling one of each type minted, he said. Collectors can find quality, affordable examples of the type one and three, but may run into issues with the type two.

“The type two was a switch-over type, a three-year type where they changed the design shortly thereafter,” he said. “They never struck as many of them as the type one or three.”

Even so, collectors seeking a type two could look at the 1854, with a mintage of 902,736 coins, or the 1855, at 758,269 struck, for their type set.

Another area of set collecting includes a gold dollar from each mint that struck them: Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco plus the short-lived Charlotte and Dahlonega facilities.

When it comes to the tiny gold dollars, collectors are finding that there’s a big appeal to owning at least one.

This article was originally printed in Numismatic News.
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