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Collecting United States Gold Coins

Learn to Collect U.S. Gold Coins by Series, Country, Region & More!

Gold Rush | United States Gold Coins
This article is from Gold Rush,
by Arlyn Sieber & Mitchell A. Battino

Pre-1933 U.S. gold coins are popular with collectors and investors throughout the world. Many were saved by individuals or stored by banks. Some circulated, as originally intended, but many survive in uncirculated, or mint, condition. The U.S. gold $20, or double eagle, enjoys steady demand from collectors and investors. As a bullion coin, the double eagle contains nearly one troy ounce of gold, which makes it easy to price in relation to its intrinsic value. Portability and liquidity also contribute to the coin’s popularity. Double eagles are widely bought and sold and readily available through any dealer who stocks gold coins.

Gold bullion coins can be purchased in any quantity, from a single piece to hundreds or more at a time. The price for larger bullion trades is typically based on the London p.m. fix and is normally locked in before the fix comes in at about 10:30 a.m. Eastern time. Payment on bullion purchases is normally due immediately.

U.S. gold $5 and $10 coins are also popular with collectors and investors, and are widely available. The smaller U.S. gold denominations – dollar, $2.50, and $3 – are of greater interest to collectors than bullion investors. These coins sell for significantly higher premiums than the larger denominations. Some pre-1933 U.S. gold $5, $10, and $20 coins may trade for a slightly higher premium over their bullion value in better grades or more scarce dates. These are commonly referred to as “seminumismatic” coins because they have some collector value, thus the higher premium, but their base value is still tied to their bullion value.

Following are some popular strategies for collecting gold coins.


Collecting U.S. Gold Coins by Series

Gold coins present some challenges to the traditional pursuit of acquiring one of each date and mint mark within a series. For example, many coins within the Coronet Head gold $2.50 and $5 series are affordable for most collectors, even in uncirculated grades. But both of these series had long runs – the $2.50 from 1840 to 1907 and the $5 from 1839 to 1908. Add in varieties, multiple mint marks for a majority of dates, and premium prices for key dates, and the goal of a complete collection of either series is commendable but daunting for most collectors.

Series containing the first U.S. gold coins are shorter, but these late 18th-century pieces are rare and command prices that reflect that rarity. The Indian Head Type 2 gold dollar is anothershort series – just six date and mint-mark combinations – but two of those are key dates with prices topping five figures. The same is true of many other early 19th-century gold-coin series.

There are, however, some relatively affordable possibilities for gold-coin series collecting. The best may be the Indian Head $2.50, struck from 1908 to 1929. The series features only 15 date and mint-mark combinations, most of which are affordable to many collectors in grades as high as MS-60. Bela Lyon Pratt’s design for this coin is a classic and artistically pleasing. The incised design features, however, present some grading nuances that should be studied through grading guides and examining coins at shows and shops.

The series also contains one key date – the 1911-D, with a mintage of only 55,680. The next lowest mintage in the series is 240,117 for the 1914. Still, the 1911-D is an achievable challenge for many collectors. Some saving and prudent management of a collecting budget can result in the acquisition of a 1911-D at the right time and the right price. The resulting complete collection of Indian Head gold $2.50 coins can be rewarding and satisfying to the viewer.

The Indian Head gold $5 – Pratt’s counterpart to his $2.50 design – is more challenging to the series collector but still achievable with proper planning and management of a collecting budget. The series contains 24 date and mint-mark combinations from 1908 to 1916 and 1929. Most sell for under $500 in the high circulated grade of AU-50.

Two key dates provide the challenge. Only 34,200 of the 1909-O were struck. A total of 662,000 of the 1929 were struck, but the mintage occurred just a few short years before the discontinuation of U.S. gold coinage and the withdrawal of gold coins from circulation. It is believed many were melted; thus, surviving examples are scarce.

The Saint-Gaudens gold $10 and $20 series include some of the great rarities in numismatics. The series collector, however, will also find some obtainable if ambitious opportunities in both types.

A collection of Saint-Gaudens gold $10 coins could start with the most common variety of the 1907 issue – without periods between the words in “E Pluribus Unum” on the reverse – and continue to the 1932 issue. Most of the date and mintmark combinations could be purchased for about $500 each in grade AU-50. A few of the scarce dates are a bit more but still relatively affordable. A step up in grade to MS-60 – the lowest uncirculated grade – is also within reach of many collectors.

Three key dates will be encountered along the way – the 1915-S, 1920-S, and 1930-S. But again, prudent planning and management of a collecting budget could bring those dates within reach, particularly the 1915-S.

The 1933 Saint-Gaudens gold $10 commands six figures even in common circulated grades, but there would be no shame in a collection that stopped short of this rarity.

The Saint-Gaudens gold $20 series includes more date and mint-mark combinations than the Saint-Gaudens $10 series. It also includes a number of issues that are out of reach for most collectors. Many other issues in the series, however, are relatively affordable. A collector could pursue as many issues in the series that are within his or her reach now and may be able to fill in one or more of the scarce or even rare issues in the future.


Collecting U.S. Coins by Type

Because of the challenges in collecting gold coins by series, many turn to collecting gold coins by type. Collecting by type provides opportunities for almost any budget. Each of the headings under each denomination in the following pricing section represents a “type.” For example, under gold $2.50 coins, there are the Liberty Cap type, three Turban Head types, Classic Head type, Coronet Head type, and Indian Head type. A type collection of gold $2.50 coins would include an example of each type listed. The type collector can chose an example that fits his or her budget from any of the date and mint-mark combinations under that type. Following are some more ways to organize a type collection. Also available are quality holders that can provide a road map for various type collections and an attractive medium for viewing a collection.

One of everything. The ultimate U.S. gold type collection would be one example of each type produced, from the first circulating gold issues of the late 18th and early 19th century to the last of the early 20th century. Commemorative coins could be added to the set, too. Although this is an ambitious goal, it is achievable for many collectors over time.

A collector could work on one aspect of the collection at a time. For example, the acquisition of just three coins completes a type set of gold dollars. The completion of smaller sets such as this leads to the ultimate goal of one of everything.

By denomination. A collector could pursue an example of each type within a certain denomination. As noted above, a type set of gold dollars consists of just three coins. A type set of gold $2.50 coins would consist of one of each type listed above. Gold $3 coins are pricey, but only one is required to complete a type set of that denomination.

A denomination type set of $2.50, $5, or $10 coins requires a collector to contend with some scarce early issues. Alternatives to this include concentrating first on the later issues or selecting denominations introduced later, such as the dollar and $20.

By century or year. Many type collectors focus on a particular time frame. For example, among gold collectors, a 20th-century type set is a popular focus. A 20th-century gold type set consists of one example of each type of circulating gold coin dated 1901 or later. The set consists of a (1) Coronet Head $2.50, (2) Indian Head $2.50, (3) Coronet Head $5, (4) Indian Head $5, (5) Coronet Head $10, (6) Saint-Gaudens $10, (7) Liberty $20, and (8) Saint-Gaudens $20.

The set is short yet complete and significant. It is also affordable to many collectors because they can choose examples of each type that best fit their budgets. Also, most dates from the 1900s are readily available and priced accordingly.

Completion of a 20th-century type set can prompt a collector to venture back further in time and start acquiring type coins from the 19th century.

A collector may also focus on a particular year or range of years that interests him or her. A historical event that interests the collector may have occurred in the year or years, or the era may have personal interest to the collector, such as the birth year of an ancestor.

By design. Many collectors like a particular design theme or the work of a particular designer and focus a collection on that interest. For example, some collectors focus on coins depicting Liberty or an Indian motif. Either theme could be combined with non-gold coins of the same theme for an attractive set with a strong Americana feel.

Coronet Head gold type set | Collecting U.S. Gold Coins

Coronet Head gold type set

Some collectors focus on coins designed by Christian Gobrecht or James B. Longacre or one of the other legendary names from the U.S. Mint design staff. A type set of Augustus Saint-Gaudens circulating gold coins would consist of just two pieces – the $10 and $20. But those two pieces contain what many regard as the two most beautiful designs in U.S. coinage history.

By mint. The various U.S. branch mints are rich in history. Collectors interested in Western history may focus a type set on coins produced at the San Francisco or Carson City mints. An interest in Southern history may lead to a collection of coins produced by the Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans mints. Gold coins from these mints could again be combined with nongold coins of the same theme for an attractive set or even with other types of Western or Southern collectibles.

By collector’s choice. Collectors can combine various elements from the type-collecting strategies outlined above – a type set of 20th-century gold coins produced at San Francisco and Carson City, for example. Or, they can invent their own parameters that play to their historical and numismatic interests.


Collecting U.S. Commemorative Gold Coins

As shown in the pricing section, commemoratives fall into two categories: (1) those issued from 1892 through 1954 and (2) those issued from 1982 to the present. In the first category, commemorative gold coins were issued in 1903-1905, 1915- 1917, 1922, and 1926. Among the newer issues, commemorative gold coins have been issued in various years since 1984.

The older commemorative gold coins consist of seven dollar coins, two $2.50 coins, and two types of $50 coins. Any of these could be considered part of one of the type sets outlined above or as a type or series set by themselves. Most of the dollars and $2.50 coins are relatively affordable.

The two gold $50 types were issued in 1915 to commemorate the Panama-Pacific Exposition. One is round; the other is octagonal. Both types are scarce and command five-figure prices. The modern gold commemoratives have been issued in $5 and $10 denominations, and can fall under any of the series or type collecting themes outlined previously. One or more individual coins could be acquired simply because the collector likes the design, the coin’s subject, or wants to support the cause benefiting from the coin’s initial sales. Upon issue, commemoratives can be purchased directly from the U.S. Mint with a portion of the sales proceeds benefiting a project related to the coin’s theme.

Past and current modern gold commemoratives can also be purchased from coin dealers. Oftentimes prices for these coins on the secondary market drop from their original U.S. Mint issue price a year or more after their release.

American Eagle Gold Bullion Coin | Collecting U.S. Gold Coins
American Eagle Gold Bullion Coin

Collecting American Eagle Gold Bullion Coins

Although issued as a convenient way for private citizens to own gold bullion, some American Eagle coins also have collectible value. Uncirculated and proof examples are available either directly from the U.S. Mint for current issues or on the secondary market for past issues. Prices for most are tied to their bullion value and the current price of gold, but a few with lower mintages command premiums on the secondary market.

The U.S. Mint does not sell bulk quantities of business-strike American Eagle bullion coins directly to the public. Instead, they are sold to a small number of distributors worldwide at a small premium over the gold price. This premium covers the cost of production and distribution, along with a profit for the Mint. The distributors then sell the coins to dealers, who, in turn, retail them to collectors and investors. The dealer markup varies but typically ranges from 5 percent to 10 percent over the spot gold price.

Some states define gold bullion as coins selling at a premium of 15 percent or less over the coins’ bullion value. Some states tax the sale of gold coins, and others do not.

More in this Section:

  • History of Gold >>
  • Collecting Gold Coins >>
  • History of Gold Coins >>
  • Collecting World Gold Coins >>
  • The Jefferson Plan >>
  • << Back to Precious Metals (Gold & Silver)


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