As a psychologist, I believe that within the heart of most coin collectors lies the soul of an investor. After all, our coins have value, and whether we admit it or not, we’re interested in their value performance over time. One piece of evidence for this is the ubiquity of coin value listings.
Take this magazine, for example. What occupies the bulk of its pages? If you said a listing of U.S. coins and their values, give yourself a pat on the back. And where does this information come from? Numismatic News, which has in the center of its pages in the first issue of each month the very prices you find here.
And what advice do most new collectors receive at the outside of their entry into the numismatic world? Buy the Red Book (A Guide Book of United States Coins), which is in the main a complete listing of U.S. coins and their values.
My point is that no matter how committed you are to only collecting, if you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit that you’re interested in how your coins are doing in the market. Was that 1889-CC Morgan dollar a good buy? Has your 1909-S VDB Lincoln cent gained value since you bought it?
In this article, I’m going to suggest some U.S. gold pieces to you that I think are destined to rise in value. Being U.S. gold pieces, if you’re looking for best buys under $100, you won’t find them here. You will find, I think, coins that are modestly priced for what they are and have a reason to advance in value.
As you’ll see, I’m going to concentrate on pre1933 U.S. gold in lower denominations. Although there are undoubtedly many double eagles ($20 gold pieces) that will go up in value, most of the ones I might suggest are strongly dependent on the market price of gold for their value. After all, a double eagle contains nearly an ounce of gold so unless we’re talking about a really scarce date (or a coin in spectacular condition), the value is likely to be pretty close to that of an ounce of gold. In other words, there won’t be a great deal of collector value.
I’ll start with 20th century U.S. quarter eagles ($2.50 gold pieces). At the beginning of the century, the coins had a Liberty Head design by Christian Gobrecht that began with the 1840 quarter eagles. As you can see, this is a long-running design, which means that these are mostly collected by type, not as a date/mintmark series. The beauty of this for the collector looking for a potentially undervalued coin is that most of the dates are priced as common dates irrespective of their mintages. I’m going to tell you about some that I think may be low-mintage bargains.
1. 1900 Liberty Head Quarter Eagle ($2.50 gold piece). With a mintage of just 67,000 pieces, the 1900 is priced as a common date through MS63. According to the pricing guide in this magazine, which I’ll call MW (Market Watch), its value range in grades F12 through MS63 is from $438 to $650. Although it’s not particularly relevant for quarter eagles, it’s worth noting that with gold at $1,780 an ounce as I write this, each coin has a melt value of $215.
On eBay, I found three PCGS-certified examples, two in MS62 and one in MS63. The prices were $532 and $600 for the MS62 examples and $637 for the MS63. These seem like reasonable prices for a decent uncirculated 1900 quarter eagle.
2. 1901 Liberty Head Quarter Eagle. Here’s another turn-of-the-century coin with a respectably low mintage (91,100). MW’s range of values is the same as for the 1900, from $438 to $650. With its higher mintage, I found more examples sold on eBay, all graded by NGC.
An MS62 brought $550, whereas two different MS63s sold for $625 and $745. An MS64 went for $656 (a bargain?), and an MS65 garnered $781.
Before leaving the Liberty Head quarter eagles, I should mention that several dates in the 1890s have what seem like ridiculously low mintages and are still valued in several grades as common dates.
For example, the 1896, with 19,070 minted, has common-date values through MS63. That is, the values range between $438 and $650. But what do they actually sell for, if you can find them?
On eBay, I found only three listed. Two were ungraded and one certified as MS62 by NGC brought $715. If you’re looking for low-mintage dates of these quarter eagles, I found that a better venue for them is Heritage Auctions (HA). There, going back to Feb. 2020, I noted six coins in grades ranging from MS62 to MS64 certified either by NGC or PCGS. Prices ranged from $456 (NGC MS63) to $930 (PCGS MS63).
With a mintage of 2,440, MW values the 1892 as a common date through AU50 and lists it for only slightly more than a common date in MS60 ($800). Unfortunately, I found that the values may be somewhat low when I checked the date on eBay and on the HA site.
On eBay, I found only one listing, an AU55 certified by NGC, that sold for $1,100. The MW value in AU50 is $480. The frequency of this date at auction wasn’t much higher in the Heritage archives, as there were only four sold in 2021. Of these, an NGC AU55 example brought $690 (a bargain?) and a PCGS AU58 went for $1,080.
3. 1914 Indian Head Quarter Eagle. With a wonderful design by Bela Lyon Pratt, the 1914 has the second lowest mintage (240,000) in the 15-coin series. Of course, the Indian Head quarter eagle with the lowest mintage is the big key to the series, the 1911-D, of which just 55,680 were minted. According to MW, excluding the 1911-D, the 1914 is worth the same as all the other dates in grades through MS60. The range of values from XF40 to MS60 is from $440 to $480. The date takes a big jump from MS60 to MS63, with the latter valued at $2,550.
When I searched the Heritage archives, I found that quite a few 1914s sold in 2021. Three in MS61, all NGC certified, went for $540 (2) and $576. A PCGS-certified MS63 brought $2,040, and one in that grade certified by NGC went for $1,920. According to the Coin Dealer Newsletter, an MS63 has a wholesale value of $1,995.
I purchased a PCGS MS63 in a Heritage auction in 2017 for $1,766, which tells me that the coin has increased in value in the last four years. If you can afford the price, I believe that this is a 20th century gold piece that will continue to rise in value. Just be sure that you pay a price appropriate to the coin’s grade. On eBay, I saw an NGC-certified MS61 that sold for $799, which is well above its current value as you can see from the Heritage sales. Even assuming increases in value, it’ll be a long time before the coin is worth what the buyer paid for it.
4. 1904-S Liberty Head Half Eagle ($5 gold piece). It’s worth noting that half eagles, with twice the gold content of quarter eagles, have a melt value of $430. Again, the Liberty Head design is by Christian Gobrecht.
With a mintage of 97,000, the 1904-S is valued by MW as a common date through MS60, with values ranging from $540 to $700. In keeping with its relatively low mintage, the date takes a major leap in value in MS63, where it’s valued at a whopping $3,000.
Apparently, you can get an MS63 for less than that. I found a couple that sold recently by Heritage Auctions for $2,400 (PCGS) and $2,120 (NGC). The current wholesale value is $1,900.
In lower grades, the prices are much less, of course, with a PCGS AU55 selling for $480, an NGC AU58 for $444, and an NGC MS61 for $666. Wholesale values for these three are $420, $575, and $750, respectively. With its sub-million mintage, I think the 1904-S half eagle has room for growth in value.
5. 1908-S Indian Head Half Eagle. The Bela Lyon Pratt Indian Head design is the same as that found on the quarter eagles, just on a larger canvas. With a mintage of only 82,000 examples, the 1908-S is nonetheless valued as a common date in lower grades by MW. The values go from $650 to $900 before spiking to $2,200 in MS60 and $7,400 in MS63.
The pickings were slim on eBay, but I found that Heritage sold several examples recently. Prices varied wildly, with several being well beyond anything on MW. For example, a PCGS MS63 sold in October 2021 for the incredible price of $15,600! I can only conclude that a couple of buyers with more money than good sense got into a bidding war, as the wholesale value in this grade is $9,600. The person who paid this astounding amount could have bought a 1908-S in PCGS MS64 six months earlier for $10,200.
The least expensive 1908-S was an NGC AU53 that went for just $960, which is in line with the MW AU50 value of $900. Prices paid for AU55s ranged from $1,380 to $2,880, and AU58s brought winning bids between $2,100 and $2,640.
About the 1908-S, Mike Fuljenz wrote the following in Indian Gold Coins of the 20th Century: “The popular 1908-S has the lowest mintage figure of any San Francisco Half Eagle of this design. It also has the third lowest mintage of any coin of this type, trailing only the 1909-O and the 1911-D.” Because of the date’s popularity and low mintage, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go up in value in all grades.
6. 1911-D Indian Head Half Eagle. Denver produced just 72,500 of this date, but it’s not nearly as pricy as the 1911-D quarter eagle. MW prices this coin like a common date in VF and XF, but it shows its true colors in higher grades. It lists for $650 in VF20 and $680 in XF40, but it jumps to $2,875 in AU50. After that, it’s “Katy bar the door” on its way to $185,000 in MS65.
The only certified example I found on eBay was a PCGS-certified XF45 that went for $1,410, which is more than twice the MW value, as you can see.
By contrast, the listing of 1911-Ds sold at auction by Heritage is seemingly endless. Of the circulated examples, a PCGS AU50 sold for $1,560, which is about half the MW value. Several AU55 examples sold for between $2,220 and $2,880, whereas a couple of AU58s cost more than $4,400. Coins in lower mint-state grades took a big jump from AU58, with an NGC MS61 going for $7,500 and an NGC MS62 bringing in more than twice the MS61 price at $15,600. And if you think the MW MS65 value is incredible, Heritage sold a PCGS MS65 for $336,000!
The 1911-D half eagle is actually a coin that I own. I bought a PCGS XF40 example from a friend nearly 20 years ago, paying him the $340 it was worth at the time. Heritage sold one in 2021 for $1,100, which is considerably more than its $800 wholesale value. From this, you can see how the coin has increased in value, even in circulated grades.
7. 1901-O Liberty Head Eagle ($10 gold piece). Once again, the design on eagles at the outset of the 20th century was a continuation of the now-familiar Christian Gobrecht Liberty Head motif. Now, the amount of gold in the coin means that its bullion value is $861. Although the mintage of the 1901-O was only 72,041 pieces, MW indicates that it is no better than a common date in grades through MS60. The values shown for the date go from $995 in VF20 to $1,150 in MS60 before taking a leap to $4,060 in MS63.
I found no examples on eBay and only two that sold on Heritage in 2021. An NGC MS60 sold for $1,260, which is not far from the MW value. The wholesale value in this grade is $1,035. The other 1901-O that sold in 2021 was an NGC MS61 that brought $1,170, which is only $20 more than the MW MS60 value.
It’s apparent to me that the 1901-O eagle doesn’t sell all that often at auction, but when it does, the price for lower mint-state examples is not far over the coin’s bullion value. I think that this is one date that should be on my (and your) want list.
8. 1911-S Indian Head Eagle. This Indian Head design is the handiwork of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, not Bela Lyon Pratt. Instead of a realistic portrait of an Indian, the obverse depicts one of the many versions of Liberty wearing an Indian headdress. Personally, I prefer the Pratt Indian Head design, but there are probably many who would disagree with me.
With a mintage of just 51,000, this is one of the scarcer dates in the series, but MW prices it as a common date in VF20 ($1,185), XF40 ($1,185), and AU50 ($1,213). The value jumps to $2,900 in MS60 and $10,000 in MS63.
Heritage sold only one example in 2021, an NGC AU50 that went for $1,380. The wholesale value is $1,242. The 1911-Ss sold in 2020 included an AU58 ($3,120), an MS60 ($3,960), and an MS62 ($6,600). The wholesale values for these coins are $2,400, $3,100, and $6,900, respectively. You can see from this that the two coins in the lowest grades sold for well over their wholesale values, whereas the best of the three went for a little bit less than wholesale.
It is my hope that this brief survey of low-mintage 20th century U.S. gold pieces will give you some ideas about which coins to buy if you’re interested in future potential. Seek out coins with relatively low mintages that are valued the same as common dates in multiple grades. These are coins with a reason to increase in value.
Buy certified rather than raw coins and enjoy your collection!