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Everyone Should Have Good Time With Gold
The Numismatic News
By Paul M. Green

Gold is once again having a good period. It is not the first time and it will certainly not be the last.

People ask what I think about the weak dollar and gold coins as a collection. My response is usually the same: I am not ter¬ribly concerned about what the dollar does against whatever the currency of choice is at the time, and to my mind the idea of a gold coin collection is always great. Few things in life are more fun than gold coins and I consider that true whether the price is going up or going down. For most people, including myself, the idea of a gold coin collection has to be somewhat limited.

Don't let the "gold" in "gold coin type set" scare you off. You can get a common date gold $20, like the 1896, for around $725 in MS-60.

After all, in a Saint-Gaudens double eagle collection alone there are potentially three $1 million dollar dates in the form of the Ultra High Relief 1907, the 1927-D and the 1933. A number of other gold collections also have potential $1 million-plus dates, and even those that don't usually have some very tough and expensive dates.

The fact is that having complete sets of gold coins, particularly those struck for circulation prior to the gold recall of 1933, is not really possible for all but a select few. Collecting gold coins, however, is not lim¬ited to complete sets. There are a number of other ways to approach gold coins as a col¬lection, and at least to me they have always been fun, starting with a gold type set.

There are a number of possible gold types sets, starting with four or eight coins and expanding to 12 coins and beyond. All offer the potential of acquiring pieces primarily at bullion-related prices, although the more coins in a set, the more you are likely to have coins that are not priced strictly at bullion-related prices. That said, even gold coins not priced basically at bullion levels tend to move in price when the price of gold moves.

I can easily remember considering my first gold coins. 1 was in my junior year of college. Reading books about gold and coin publications was far more interesting than the reading list for my courses. I had already collected most coins of the United States with the exception of gold. Even when I had stopped finding coins in circulation for my various sets, I had cheerfully began collecting type coins and other issues like Indian Head cents. The Indian Head cent set had only reached the halfway point, and the type collection was limited to things like 2-cent pieces, but I was always happy with coins that 1 had never seen in circulation. Even my mother seemed vaguely interested in something like a 2-cent piece as the first coin to have "IN GOD WE TRUST." She expressed no such interest in my collections of reptiles or rusty Civil War bayonets.

Maybe I had an advantage in that by the time 1 first considered gold type coins, I had already accepted the idea that I could cheerfully collect coins without ever com¬pleting the sets. I was certainly not going to complete Lincoln cents although I had all but a couple dates. I had a Morgan silver dollar from every Mint facility that had produced them, and I had assorted type coins, such as the 2-cent piece, that were never going to amount to a complete collection and I knew it.

I never expected to put a date as scarce as the 1855-C gold $1 in my gold type col¬lection. The opportunity arose, however, and I was pleased to acquire it

The attraction of gold coins was only mildly the fact that gold might go up in price. Back in 1970 when a Saint-Gaudens double eagle might be $75, there was really very little reason to think in terms of major gold price movements. In fact, gold coins either went up because collectors wanted them or they barely moved at all in terms of price. If you wanted gold coins, there had to be a pretty good reason other than making a gold play.

My reason at the time was basically curiosity. 1 had never owned a gold coin and had only seen a couple quarter eagles. The coin shops in the 1950s did not carry much in the way of gold coins, or at least the small shops I had grown up visiting every Saturday did not, probably in large part because there was little or no demand for them. Moreover, even at $75 or so for a Saint-Gaudens double eagle, gold corns were expensive. No small coin dealer was going to tie up that sort of money on a coin that was unlikely to sell or go up in price; for $75 you could buy a very nice coin that might go up in price and had a pretty good chance of selling. As a result, unlike today, I and probably many others had seen or handled very few gold coins of any type.

Enough reading about gold and American history convinced me that I wanted to have a gold coin. Of course, on the budget of a student, that was a serious financial problem. I made that problem worse by wanting not a small quarter eagle, which might have been less than $20, but rather by thinking in terms of a Saint-Gaudens double eagle, which naturally was the most expensive choice. It took saving. I was nervous for a couple weeks, having never purchased a coin costing more than $25, much less more than $70, but as it turned out it was worth the wait.

The coin collector part of me was not happy, but the rest of me could not resist the notion of showing off my Saint-Gaudens double eagle when it arrived. It was fun from the minute I opened the envelope - until my friend in his best cowboy immitation tried to take a bite out of it. Even though I was upset by that stunt, telling about it has been fun for 35 years, and frankly I was surprised then and am surprised now to know that if you bite a gold coin, it will leave a tooth mark and not chip your tooth. I've seen it with my own eyes.

Even with the bite, that Saint-Gaudens double eagle immediately hooked me on the idea of a gold type set. Realistically, just affording gold coins was such a challenge dial I never for a minute thought about whether they should be MS-63 or MS-65. I had an advantage back then in that such grades were not used, but circulated or uncirculated did not matter as all I could afford were circulated coins. Even they took a lot of saving.

We all have our own favorite gold coins. I liked large, so the Coronet Head double eagle was next on my list. After that the eagles, half eagles and quarter eagles did not seem to require any special order of purchase. Moreover, I has hoping to have fun assembling the collection, although at least some of what happened was not what I expected.

With a small fortune of perhaps $30 in my pocket one November Saturday, the sun going down seemingly early as day-light-saving time had just ended, I headed out to the coins shops along the Illinois-Wisconsin border. I had no special purpose except to see if I could buy a gold coin. At the time 1 needed everything; I had just two double eagles, and my $30 would probably not get me an eagle even if it was dam¬aged. I was leaning toward an Indian Head quarter eagle or half eagle because I was interested in the recessed design and had never owned a coin with such a design.

It was a perfect case to illustrate the times. Stopping in one shop, I was greeted by an owner or at least manager who seemed to know something about coins. He was not all that pleasant from the start, but I had money in my pocket and I was ready saying I wanted to buy a gold coin.

"We don't have any they aren't legal," he shot back. Technically he was wrong, and I was surprised he added the part about not being legal as they certainly were legal. The gold recall order of 1933 had made gold coins dated prior to the act basically legal. The wording had never really been enforced in terms of the coins needing historic or numismatic value, so basically any pre-1933 gold coin was trading legally. I probably could have had a debate with the man, but his attitude told me it was not worth the time and trouble. Plus, even if I could convince him that he was wrong, he'd said he had no coins to sell, or at least none he was willing to sell me. It was getting late and there were other shops I could still visit. As it was, although much more friendly, the other shops also had no gold. It was really something of an exception back in 1970 to find many small shops with any gold.

By the time I had finished college, 1 had also finished a basic eight-coin type set: the four Coronet Head denominations and the three Indian Head denomiantions plus the Saint-Gaudens double eagle. These eight gold coins are the ones genrally priced at bullion-related prices. If there were going to be any more coins in my set, they would not be as closely tied to gold prices. The three types of gold $ 1 s as well as a gold $3 are tougher.

I was still uncertain where I would be taking my collection next when my first job outside of college landed me in something of a hotbed of collecting known as Menasha, Wis. Actually, Menasha itself might not have been a collecting hotbed, but located on the main street was Dick Andersen's coin shop. The shop was actu¬ally run by his wife most of the time as Dick was busy delivering mail, but for me, whoever was in charge was perfect. The Andersons had gold coins. As it worked out, I was working at the Chamber of Commerce and Dick delivered the mail there every day, which meant that anytime he had something new in stock, I was one of the first to know.

A type Saint-Gaudens gold $10 like this 1926 piece currently lists for just under $600 in MS-60.

Anderson had plenty of ideas and coin-cidentally seemed to have coins in his inventory that would work perfectly to flesh out those ideas. He pointed out that an eight-coin gold type set was not complete. He was certainly right about that. I quickly added a Type 1 (Liberty Head) gold $1 and a Type 3 {large Indian Head) gold $1 but was not rushing into the purchase of a Type 2 (small Indian Head) $1 or a gold $3 as they are tougher and more expensive.

The Type 2 gold $ 1 was going to be my next purchase under any circumstances, and I was content with the notion of either an 1854 or 1855, the only two dates with anything close to a significant mintage. Then one day while making his regular rounds, Dick told me to stop by the shop after work. He had something to show me.

I got to his shop shortly after work and he reached into the display case the minute I entered the door, handing me a holder with the suggestion, "Why don't you add a really rare coin to your set."

It was at first glance an 1855 gold $1, but when I really looked at it, I realized it was not a routine 1855 - none are really routine anyway - but rather this was an 1855-C, which had a mintage of just 9,803 pieces. That suddenly changed things. It also explained the nearly $500 price even though the coin was barely a VF-20. My legs almost gave out. I had never really expected to hold a coin with such a low mintage and certainly never expected to own one. Dick could see I was hesitating. He quickly chimed in with, "Think of what the price would be if it was a Mercury dime with that mintage."

Realistically, I had never really thought about the prospect of mixing better dates with my gold type coins. Even with a job that paid the lofty sum of nearly $200 a week, I had also never thought of spending so much money on a coin. I took a day to think about it, but Dick knew my love of low mintages and rarity. Those considerations kept eating at me as this was perhaps my one and only chance to own a coin so rare. In fairness, it was a normal 1855-C, which means it was not very nice. They were poorly made on usually poor planchets and the whole thing does not translate into much eye appeal. That said, I could not resist and ended up making a deal involving regular payments. Finally, once I had the coin in my set, I knew it was well worth it. For a time 1 even considered changing the others in my set to similar better dates. My finances, however, were not that good.

Among the most available gold $3s is the 1854, the first year of issue, which lists at a price of about $1,100 in XF-40.

For many nights I would spend at least a few minutes with my 1855-C, just looking at it and trying to imagine where it had been over the years. The coin probably paid for itself in fun in the first year, the only negative being that it also probably took away from the excitement of my $3 purchase. The 1854 gold $3, withamintage of 138,618, is the most likely gold S3 for a type collection, and that was true with me as well. Even an 1854 is an awftilly good coin, but compared to the 1855-C gold $1 it did not seem as tough as it would have seemed under normal circumstances. That said side-by-side the two made for quite a pair of tough gold coins. Many times when we consider a date like the 1854, we fail to remember how truly scarce it is simply because by comparison it looks available. The 1854, as I kept reminding myself, compares awfully well with items like 1916-D Mercury dimes and 1909-S VDB Lincoln cents.

The whole process had been fun and educational, and I was very tempted to expand my collection. The problem was always my limited budget. An 1801 $10 eagle at a Milwaukee show was very tempting. The coin was lower grade with a couple nicks, and that made it lower priced than is normal, but at $900 it still represented safely over a month's pay. It was a very tough choice, though, as like the 1855-C, I never expected to own a coin like an 1801 gold eagle with a mintage placed at 44,344.

In fact, the 1855-C may have played a small role in influencing my decision to say no thanks. I already had one very scarce gold coin and, as much as I would have liked another, I was able to buy a Bust dollar and go home with change in my pocket.

There were other potential purchases as well. Highest on that list were the William Kneass Classic Head quarter eagle and half eagle, which in many ways I honestly think should be added to gold type sets. They are affordable and they were the first of the new 1834 quarter eagles and half eagles that had slightly lower gold content than those from before 1834. Of course, the collector in me that likes rare dates would also consider the Classic Head coins from branch mints, as it was the Classic Head quarter eagles and half eagles that were the first U.S. gold coins to be made at any facility other than Philadelphia. Being older and lower mintage, the Classic Head quarter eagles and half eagles are tough in Mint State, but at the time that did not bother me as I was simply having fun on a very limited budget. That meant that my coins were circulated, and in the case of the Saint-Gaudens double eagle, bitten, so having a slightly below-average Classic Head quarter eagle or half eagle was not about to bother me.

Throughout I simply had a great time looking at and buying gold coins. In some respects 1 was sorry there were not more coins in a type set. I was equally sorry, in a way, when gold soared to $800 an ounce. At that point it was impossible to resist sell¬ing, even though I had enjoyed assembling the collection. 1 was still tempted to save the 1855-C gold $1 because the gold price had very little impact on it, but I resolved that if 1 was selling the others, it could go, too. It was a way of justifying the profits, but I was also content with the fact that it had given me a great deal of joy over the years. Maybe the time was right to let someone else have a chance.

Watching gold's price activity and the headlines again makes me think back to my type collection with a lot of warm memories. Most of us cannot collect gold coins in the regular manner of a set of one type or another, but virtually everyone can collect and enjoy gold type coins, and that is what almost everyone should consider. How you make your collection is up to you, but there is no doubt a gold type collection is a collection that is a lot of fun to assemble - and, if gold goes up, to sell.

The Numismatic News May 1, 2007

Gold Coins - Saint Gaudens Double Eagle Collection - Coin Collection

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