Everyone likes good value when they buy coins, and more collectors than ever opt to buy coins from the two western branch mints located in Carson City and San Francisco. So why not write an article on said topic? And let’s double your enjoyment, dear reader, by selecting affordable coins in the $2,500-7,500 range; coins which are actually available from time to time, so that this guide is actually usable. In fact, let’s go whole hog crazy and even suggest the best value grades (BVG) for each issue!
And away we go….
1. 1870-S Gold Dollar, MS62 to MS63
The 1870-S gold dollar is a numismatically significant coin as it is the final year in which this denomination was produced at the San Francisco mint. It is a low mintage issue with just 3,000 struck, and the coins which survive are pretty evenly spread out between the AU50 to MS63 range.
In MS62 to MS63, the 1870-S is quite a scarce coin but not an impossible one to find. An MS62 currently is valued in the $4,500-5,500 range, while a properly graded MS63 can be found in the $6,500-7,500 range.
I like this coin for a number of reasons. It is a low mintage issue which is one of just seven gold dollars made at the San Francisco mint. It also has “date appeal” due to the extreme rarity of its Big Brother, the unique 1870-S Three Dollar.
2. 1861-S Quarter Eagle, AU55 to AU58
Despite its status as a Civil War issue, the 1861-S is an overlooked scarcity in the Liberty Head quarter eagle series. Only 24,000 were struck and the survival rate of this issue is extremely low. There are likely fewer than 100 known today with most in the VF-EF range. Properly graded AU’s are very scarce, and this date becomes really rare in AU55 to AU58. I know of just two or three in Uncirculated, the finest of which is a PCGS MS62+ that I purchased for $25,300 in the Heritage 8/11 auction.
In AU55, an 1861-S quarter eagle will cost between $3,500 and $5,000+, depending on the quality. In AU58, the price range will run from around $6,000 to over $8,000 for a very choice piece.
This date is starting to show some signs of life, but I still feel it is much undervalued, especially in the higher AU grades.
3. 1879-S Quarter Eagle, MS61 to MS62
This date has been a favorite of mine for years and, I must admit, it was an issue that I once hoarded (but no longer do). It is numismatically significant as the last year of issue for quarter eagles from this mint, and it is scarcer than its mintage of 43,500 would suggest. While fairly easy to obtain in circulated grades, this issue is rare in Uncirculated with probably no more than 15 or so known. Despite its rarity, this issue remains affordable.
In MS61, the 1879-S quarter eagle can be purchased for $1,750 to $2,250. I’d actually recommend a potential buyer wait for a nice MS62—which is valued at $2,500 to $3,000—as said coin is likely to be nicer despite its small premium over a 61.
I doubt if this coin is likely to ever be regarded as “collectable” as others in this group of ten. But I am including it as I regard it as one of the best values available from the San Francisco mint.
4. 1855-S Three Dollar, AU50 to AU53
I have written about this date extensively and it remains among my very favorite dates in the Three Dollar series. It is numismatically significant as the first San Francisco issue of this denomination, and it is the rarest collectible Three Dollar piece from this mint. There are an estimated 300-400 known with most in lower grades. For the sake of not climbing above the $7,500/per coin limit we set for coins in this article, I am suggesting collectors focus on AU50 to AU53 examples, although I would suggest that an even higher grade coin would be a great addition to a set.
In AU50, an 1855-S three dollar is worth $4,500-5,500. In AU53, an example will sell for $5,000-6,500.
A quick buying hint or two: most 1855-S three dollars have been dipped or processed and naturally toned, choice pieces with good eye appeal are very scarce. Be patient and if you see the “right” coin don’t be afraid to pay a premium.
5. 1858-S Half Eagle, EF45 to AU50
Collectors are finally getting wise to the rarity—and excellent value—of the San Francisco half eagles. But most of their attention has been focused on the Civil War issues, meaning that certain dates struck before 1861 and after 1865 remain very under-priced. I could list a number of these but am going to focus on just one or two to keep this article a manageable length.
I like the 1858-S both in terms of its overall and high-grade rarity. It is unlikely that more than 50-60 are known from an original mintage of 18,600. This issue saw active use in local commerce and most survivors are in the VF-EF range.
If you can find a nice, original EF45 1858-S half eagle (it will be a challenge, I can promise you that!), it will cost in the area of $2,500 to $3,000. An AU50 will cost $4,000-5,000 and will present even more of a challenge.
A quick FYI: the 1859-S and 1860-S are two other San Francisco half eagles which are almost as tough as the 1858-S and both are affordable—and undervalued—as well.
6. 1881-CC Half Eagle, AU50 to AU53
With few exceptions, all of the 1870’s Carson City half eagles are scarce to rare, and most are out of the price range for coins in this article. The five CC half eagles produced during the 1880’s are more available but will prove challenging to the collector who likes choice, original coins.
The 1881-CC is the rarest post-1870’s half eagle from this mint. There are around 125-150 known in all grades, mostly in the EF40 to AU50 range. This issue is well produced and is known for pleasing color and luster. A nice quality AU50 should be buy-able in the $4,500-5,500 range, while an AU53 will set you back $5,500-6,500.
Buying hint: more and more CC half eagles from this era are being dipped-n-stripped, leaving sophisticated collectors with fewer available nice coins. Don’t be afraid to pay a premium for the “right” coin if you see it.
7. 1855-S Eagle, EF45 to AU50
The San Francisco mint began production of eagles in 1854 and many of the early issues are more available than one might think; at least in circulated grades. An exception to this is the 1855-S of which only 75 or so are known from the original mintage of just 9,000. In higher grades, this date is extremely rare and priced far out of the range which we have set. But rich guys shouldn’t have all the fun, right? You can still afford a nice 1855-S eagle even if the upper end of your coin budget is in the high four figures.
A nice EF45 example of this rare date will cost around $3,500 to $4,500 and enough exist to make this a real possibility for the collector. An AU50 will prove much harder to find and is likely to cost as much as $6,500-8,500 depending on the quality.
Another buying hint: virtually any San Francisco eagle struck prior to 1877 is highly undervalued and if you can locate nice pieces in the $2,500-7,500 range I’d buy them aggressively.
8. 1882-CC Eagle, AU53 to AU55
You need a big coin budget if you want to collect the Carson City eagles from the 1870’s as even the most available dates (1871-CC and 1874-CC) are big bucks in EF45 and above. But the issues from the 1880’s, while not as scarce, are still pretty good value and you can purchase a pretty scarce coin in a pretty impressive grade for not a whole lot of scratch.
My favorite later date CC eagle is the 1882-CC. Only 6,764 were made and this date is extremely hard to find in grades above AU55. An AU53 is currently priced in the $5,000-7,000 range while an AU55 will run $6,500-8,500.
Two other later date CC eagles also worth consideration are the 1883-CC and the 1893-CC; the former in AU53 to AU55 grades and the latter in AU55 to AU58.
9. 1895-S Eagle, MS61 to MS62
You take a risk when you buy post-1877 San Francisco gold coins as many were shipped to Europe or South America and are still being repatriated. I would be cautious of coins like the 1895-S but I think nice MS61’s are probably safe, given their current affordability.
Along with the 1894-S, the 1895-S is the key date in the later San Francisco Liberty Head eagles. It is pretty easy to locate in AU55 and AU58, but it is scarce in properly graded MS61, and very rare in MS62 and above. MS61 examples currently sell in the $2,500-3,500 range and given the fact that they have a PCGS population of just six in this grade with seven higher, they seem like great value. An MS62, if you can find one, will cost $5,500-7,500.
Remember, hoards of this date are a possibility so don’t spend your life savings cornering the market on Uncirculated 1895-S eagles.
10. Common Date Carson City Double Eagles, Gem AU58
No area of the U.S. gold market has been more active in recent years than Carson City double eagles. We’ve seen dramatic price increases, especially for common dates in EF and AU grades. I can’t call any CC double eagle “undervalued” at current levels but I think “gem sliders” are the best value in this market.
Before I go further, let me explain what a “gem slider” is. It is a coin graded AU58 that is really choice with nearly no visible luster breaks, clean surfaces and pleasing natural color. Only a small percentage of coins graded AU58 by the services are “gems” for the grade.
Let’s look at a specific issue: the 1884-CC. It is common enough in circulated grades but it is becoming hard to locate in properly graded AU58. A gem slider coin in a 58 holder is currently worth around $7,500. Compare this to an average quality MS61 1884-CC which would easily bring $15,000-16,000 in the current market. Which seems like better value to you?
If you are going to play in the CC double eagle market, I suggest you look at really nice AU58’s (or even top quality AU55’s) as these represent the best value in a series in which your $2,500 to $7,500 per coin budget might no longer go as far as it once did.
This list could have easily been twenty or even thirty coins. Which issues did I leave off which you like? Please feel free to add your comments below.