Assembling a Back-Up Coin Collection
By Doug Winter
recently had a few collectors ask me a similar
question; one that has given me some pause to
think. Basically, these are people whose main
collecting focus is an expensive, very
challenging series. Due to lack of availability
(of funds), their purchases may be very
infrequent. But they still love coins and the
thrill of the hunt. What, they’ve asked me, can
they play with as their “back-up” set?
The parameters that they’ve given me for this
back-up set have been pretty consistent. They
want a group of coins that are fun to collect,
reasonably affordable, interesting but not
wildly esoteric and different enough that they
won’t compete against their primary set(s). Most
importantly, they don’t want their back-up set
to grow so expensive that it depletes funds from
their primary set.
My answer(s) has typically been based on the
needs and wants of the collector. I’d like to
share a few suggestions that I have given
focusing on the ideas that appear to have been
popular as opposed to ideas of mine that have
gone over like the proverbial lead balloon.
1. Dahlonega half eagles in EF and lower AU
With the exception of two dates (the 1842-D
Large Date and the 1861-D), the Dahlonega half
eagle set does not include any major rarities or
extremely expensive coins. Every issue can be
purchased in the EF-AU range for $5,000 or less
and there are no “stoppers” that will prove
frustrating for the collector. The series is
reasonably short (just 26 coins) and the coins
themselves are highly collectible. One of the
best things about this series is that if a
collector gets tired of these coins after buying
just a few, he will have little downside risk.
I’d say the key to collecting a set of Dahlonega
half eagles is to be patient and to wait for
choice, original coins.
2. No Motto Philadelphia Eagles.
This is a set that the collector might not want
to actually form a date set but it is a great
area to dabble in. There are lots of very
interesting coins that are priced in the
$1,000-3,000 and what’s important to remember is
that, generically, just about any still-round
ten dollar gold piece from this era is worth in
the area of $700. If you become seriously
interested in this series, you can pursue the
rarities which include the 1844, 1858, 1863 and
1865. If you’d rather just dabble, buy coins
like the nice AU50 1857 eagle I just sold off my
website for less than $2,000 (it was a great
value, in my opinion).
3. A date set of gold dollars.
I might be stretching on this one but I think a
set that one example of every year in which the
gold dollar denomination was produced (1849 to
1889) would be pretty interesting. I suggest
this as a date set given the relatively high
cost of issues such as the 1855-D, 1856-D and
1861-D. In a date set, these can be replaced by
inexpensive issues from Philadelphia. A date set
of gold dollar could be assembled in
Uncirculated grades for a pretty reasonable sum
and they only two challenging years would be the
1863 and the 1875. And, yes, I know these coins
are small and not necessarily for everyone.
4. Coins with Low Mintage Figures.
If you scan through a copy of the Redbook,
you’ll be stunned to see how many United States
gold coins from the 19th century have original
mintage figures of 5,000 or less. You’ll be even
more stunned to learn how many of these rare,
low mintage issues can be purchased in very
presentable grades for less than $5,000. No, you
won’t be able to be ultra-low mintage issues in
very popular series like Type One or Type Three
double eagles. But there are literally dozens of
gold dollars, quarter eagles, threes, half
eagles and even a few eagles with stupidly low
mintages that are highly affordable. And you
don’t have to worry about forming a “set”; just
buy what you like and look for the issues that
seem most undervalued.
5. Related Numismatic Literature.
Assembling a collection of books and catalogs
related to your primary collection might be a
fun adjunct project. Let’s say you collect early
gold. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have a
library that featured all books about early gold
going back to the 19th century (admittedly there
are not many…) and all important catalogs that
featured early gold collections? Work closely
with one of the major numismatic book dealers
and have him help you come up with a list of,
say, the 100 Greatest Sales of US gold coins.
Instead of waiting months or even years between
your “big” purchases, think small(er) and create
a secondary set that will keep you busy during
the dry spells that all collectors face. It will
make you a better collector and it will make you
appreciate numismatics as a hobby even more than
you already do!