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A new collecting adventure for me … the “old” gold commemorative series

23 posts in this topic

This year I went to FUN convention as a “private citizen” and not a dealer for the first time in more than 10 years. My goal was to add to my collection of 19th century presidential campaign medalets, perhaps find a Civil War token or two and start a collection of the early gold commemorative coins, which runs from 1903 to 1926. The presidential material and the tokens that I wanted were in short supply. Therefore, after the first few hours at the convention, my concentration centered on the tiny gold coins.


The “early” commemorative gold coins have been out of favor for a few years. After a big run up in price six or sever years ago, the prices for these coins have been gradually drifting downward. A few dealers thought I was nuts to be looking for them, but then again I’ve often been a “contrary buyer.” I buy the stuff the market at least for now does not like.


Most of the dealers were ready to make deals at Gray Sheet bid or less. A few who admitted that they were “buried” in the coins were not willing to take less than what they had paid. That’s not the way I used to do business, but each to their own. After while it makes sense to me to get you money out of “dead stock” and get it moving again.


I’m not usually a slave to a 10X glass, but with these tiny coins, it’s sort of a requirement. The glass will show you the most minor of problems and then you must judge how important they really are with a 5X or in my near sighted world my naked eye.


The three things to look for on these coins are scratches, copper stains and badly worn dies. Since I was looking for coins in the MS-64 to 66 range, scratches should have been a minor concern, but you would be surprised at what I found. To me a piece with a mark that is large for the coin and visible to the naked eye should not be graded MS-65, but I found some.


Copper stains don’t send me off the deep end unless they are very dark and large for the coin. Some issues, like the Philadelphia Sesquicentennial $2.50, almost always have them.


Die fatigue is pet peeve of mine on coins like this. I like commemorative coins with early die states and sharp features. Not all of these coins, especially the 1903, ’04 and ’05 were struck with fresh dies.


My first purchase of a really nice Lewis and Clark. This is one of the tough issues because many of them were spent eventually and show signs of circulation. Back in my dealer days I had a want list from a customer who was looking for a low end Mint State pieces. I was truly amazed at how many of these coins in AU-55 or so are in MS-61 and 62 holders. The piece I found was a really pretty MS-64. That piece, given my budget, was what Dave Bowers calls “the Optimal Collecting Grade.” In MS-64 the coin is priced at $3,000. In MS-65, the price more than doubles. Here is my purchase, which I regard as a “PQ” coin.




This running a bit long so I'll stop here, If anyone is interested in more of my FUN adventures with early commemorative gold I'll have future posts.

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Nice post. Thanks for sharing. I would definitely be interested in reading more about your collecting experience and knowledge of early gold commems.


:headbang: (thumbs u

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I really like, and own the Pan Pac Dollar and 1903 Jefferson Dollar in MS 63. I didn`t care for the Sesqui and it got cut from the team. Bill-VERY nice lewis and Clark Dollar. The Pan Pac Octogonal is my dream coin!

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The Lewis and Clark was the only piece that I bought right off the bat. John Hamrick had the coin, and he priced it to me a Gray Sheet bid. Having shopped for these in the past I knew that I probably would not do much better and could lose out of this one if I didn’t pull the trigger. For the rest of the pieces I looked at the dealers’ stock, marked the table number (vital in show of this size) and made notes on the pieces I liked.


I found an acceptable Grant with star at Harry Laibstain’s table. I believed that it had been dipped (and I could be wrong on that) and was a little “white,” but the coin had a nice look. The trouble was PCGS had marked the coin as Plain variety when it was in fact the Star variety. Unlike the half dollar the Star variety is actually a little cheaper than the Plain in the higher grades. Harry noted the problem and sent it over to the PCGS table to be reholdered. Harry has a lot more “pull” with them than I do, so I let his people handle it.


Having handled the Grant half dollars many times, I find this little coin “cute.” It has exactly the same design, aside from the denomination marking, in a much smaller size.




One of my goals was to come home with a Pan-Pac $2.50 gold. That is generally considered to be the toughest coin among this group aside from the $50 gold slugs. Many Pan-Pac quarter eagles have been spent and have marks. The coin is also noted for dull surfaces.


The only one I saw that I really liked was in the auction. It was an NGC MS-64 and was very PQ for the grade IMO . Sadly the opening bid, which I checked on the Internet in my hotel room was already up to $4,000 which took the price with the juice to $4,600. Ultimately the coin sold for $4,500 which figured to $5,175. That was almost MS-65 money. I guess the buyer liked it or perhaps looking for a crack-out. I'm out of the crack out games these days. (shrug)


The closed I came to buying a $2.50 was graded MS-66. The price was $6,250 which was between bid and ask. I really thought the coin was an MS-65 and not an MS-66 because of mark on Ms. Liberty's head. That one will have to wait for another day ... (shrug)


To be continued ...

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Lots of interesting tid bits again – thanks. I regularly check Harry’s site for coins. He tends to carry a lot of the coins that I’m interested in.


I’m not very knowledgeable about gold coins – just not an area that I’ve focused on and read much about. From my novice perspective I really like the two that you’ve shown. I’ve always liked the design on that Grant whether in silver or gold.


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Thank you for taking the time for the writeup, Bill. The early gold commems are on the short list of niche areas for me if I had to branch out from my type set.

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If you are interested in commemorative coins, I would recommend A Guide Book of United States Commemorative Coins by Q. David Bowers. The book is part of Whitman's "Red Book" series. It contains a lot of the information that he published in his earlier "big book" from the late 1990s in a smaller size. I agree with almost all he has to say with only a couple reservations.


The 1903 Jefferson gold dollar is easier to find in the better grades than the 1903 McKinley coin despite the fact the net mintages are similar. I guess if one had to part with a gold dollar during The Great Depression, McKinley might have been the first one to go.


I found a couple of Jefferson coins in that grabbed my interest. One was an MS-64 that looked great from a naked eye perspective, but when I put the 10X on it I saw a fairly significant scratch on Mr. Jefferson’s cheek. It was kind of thing could make the coin tougher to sell when that time comes. The reverse was truly wonderful … Dare I say MS-68 :o , but the obverse sells the coin. :juggle: The second one was an MS-65 with a great reverse but a so-so reverse. Dave Bowers stated that the reverses of the Jefferson and McKinley coins always come nice, but this coin disproved that theory. hm


Nice McKinley coins were harder to find. One in a PCGS MS-65 holder had a shallow but significant semi-circular scratch on the obverse that was naked eye obvious. I guess some MS-65 coins are more equal than others. ??? Another piece in an MS-64 holder had once been a nice coin, but someone had dipped the devil out of it. :devil: It had a very artificial shine that was the antithesis of the term "original." Dip might not attack gold, but it can work on the copper and silver that is in these coins.


Finally I found an MS-65 Jefferson and an MS-64 McKinley that suited me. The holder for the McKinley was messed up and now the coin is out to be reholdered. Here is the Jefferson. The only negative to it is that die was a bit worn at 7 to 8 o'clock on the obverse, but that did not bother me too much.




I would add that the dealer who had the Jefferson and the McKinley also had an MS-64 Jefferson in a PCGS "rattle holder." The coin was dull an unattractive and the holder label was wondering down toward the coin. The urban myth is that ALL "rattler holder" coins are over graded. This piece disproved that theory. If the coin had been nice I would had to have had it reholdered.


There are just two more chapters to the saga.

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One of my goals was to come home with a Pan-Pac $2.50 gold...


Bill, that was my goal for about twenty years. But I finally found one I could afford...




Ex-jewelry, but it's real and it's mine. I owned both the Pan-Pac $1 and Sesqui for a while but both were cleaned and I sold them as such.


Great thread, and I am quite impressed with the Grant and the Lewis & Clark. Both are drop dead gorgeous.


Please keep us informed as you add new pieces.

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That is a really nice Pan-Pac quarter eagle, HiHoAudio. I know it has some issues because of its status as an ex-jewelry piece, but it still it is sharply struck and provides a nice example of the design. (thumbs u


The Pan-Pac gold dollar is really cool coin, and it’s surprising how few of them you see even at the major shows. I ran into only three or four pieces at FUN, and I found only two of them to worth noting.


The obverse features a canal laborer whom some people believe is a baseball player because of his cap. The reverse features two dauphins which are symbolic of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. To my way of thinking it’s one of the most attractive pieces in this small gold series.


The first one I spotted was in an MS-65 holder. When I put the 10X it I saw a horizontal scratch that ran across the middle of the laborer’s cheek. It was not very obvious to the naked eye, but it made the coin a marginal MS-65 at best. “What do you think?” the dealer asked me.


I responded that the piece did have a scratch on the face that made it less than choice MS-65. I asked the price, and the dealer hemmed and hawed until he finally said that he had bought it a year ago when the prices were higher and that he’d have to get $1,600. He asked me what Gray Sheet bid was, and I told him $1,285.


“I got $1,400 in it,” he confessed, and I sensed that he was not about to take a loss or even sell it at cost. I marked the price and table number on my sheets and moved on.


Later in the day I ran into an MS-64 graded piece at Julian Leidman’s booth. It too had a small scratch on the cheek, but it was smaller and much less obvious than the one I had noted on the MS-65. Since all other factors were equal, it turned out this MS-64 was actually better than the MS-65 I had seen later. (Buy the coin, not the holder! How many times have you heard that one?) The price was between MS-64 bid and ask, and I happily wrote a check. In the end I bought a better coin for several hundred dollars less. Of course this one gives me less registry points, but since an MS-65 Pan-Pac dollar is not going make you “king of registry hill” does it really matter?



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As I look at the Jefferson Dollar, to me,his hair and clothing are very well done with lots of detail. His face is exceptionally done. Great job. The reverse is simple but pleasing. The Pan Pac Dollar face is also exceptional and impressive with it`s high relief. The reverse looks great with the 2 dolpins. 2 coins I really love!

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I started nibbling at commemorative gold coins late last year, because they seemed pretty darned cheap to me, both historically, as well as on a relative basis.


I just sold these two MS66 examples:







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Hi Mark!


Your McKinley gold dollar leads me into my FUN experiences with that coin.


The 1916-7 McKinley gold dollar was at the bottom of my gold commemorative want list because it really didn't commemorate anything except a desire to raise funds. The dates had nothing to do with McKinley's life, and the coins were sold to raise money for a McKinley memorial that was built at his birthplace, Niles, Ohio.


The first proposals called for a silver dollar, but then some people pointed out that McKinley had won the presidency as a staunch supporter of the gold standard. Therefore the finial legislation authorized a gold McKinley coin.


Interestingly McKinley was not always a gold standard advocate. Earlier in his political career he had supported bi-metalism. Here is a McKinley stud, probably from one of his runs for Congress, which shows that he supported the concurrent use of gold and silver.




Then McKinley teamed up with a wealthy master fundraiser, Mark Hanna, who transformed his career. Hanna was sort of the Carl Rove of his day. He raised record amounts of campaign funds for his presidential races (perhaps has much as 8 to 10 million dollars, which was a huge amount at the turn of the 19th century) and gave him a lot of sage advice. Hanna was the kind of guy Donkey Party people loved to hate. On this golden colored political token from the 1900 presidential campaign the Donkey Party people depicted him as a bag man, which a major political insult.




The image of McKinley that appeared on the 1916-7 gold dollars was far different from the one that appeared on the 1903 coin. In fact it was so different that many people may not have recognized him. Perhaps Charles Barber decided to give him a makeover after St. Gaudens called his 1903 McKinley “deadly.” At any rate here is the image that the voters had of McKinley when he was running for president.




And here is Charles Barber's 1916 view of McKinley.




I may have overpaid for this piece which is graded MS-65. It has blazing almost P-L luster on both sides combined with coppery toning. Unfortunately it does not show in this picture. My choice was between this piece and an MS-66 that was very much like Mark's coin that he posted above. This was only coin in the group for which I paid over ask, but I thought that it was worth it given the eye appeal.

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Bill, Incredible coins (worship) with terrific background and historical information to delight the senses. Your knowledge is amazing and the sharing of it here is priceless. :applause: Thank you

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Two more to go …


I bought this MS-64 Philadelphia Sesquicentennial $2.50 at a Baltimore show back in January 2007. The prices for this coin have really come down recently, especially for the MS-65 and 66 graded pieces. I’m buried in it, but it would have been worst if I had sprung for an MS-65 or MS-66. Back then the Gray Sheet bid for an MS-66 was over $16,000; today it’s $9,600. :o




For whatever reason many collectors do not like this coin. Perhaps it’s because of the low relief, or maybe they don’t like the design. The coin also has a high mintage for this series of 46,019. I’ve had dealers give me the vampire cross sign with their fingers when I asked if they had any of these coins in stock. One even said, “Thank God I don’t have any!”


The dealer from whom I bought this piece (U.S. Coins) had almost 200 of these coins in their inventory in grades that ranged from MS-63 to 66. The 65 and 66 graded coins were too expensive for me so I concentrated on his stock of MS-64s which totaled something over 75 pieces. I honestly could not see enough of an improvement in the 65 and 66 graded coins to warrant paying the big premium for them.


The biggest problem with Philadelphia Sesquicentennial gold is copper spots. A good majority of these coins have them and this piece is no exception. For whatever reason the Philadelphia mint did not mix the gold and copper well when they were preparing the planchets for these coins.


The Philadelphia Sesquicentennial celebration was built around an exposition which was like a World’s Fair. The Fair was not well run, and some of the exhibits were not completed and ready to open when the fair started. Some of them were never completed. The fair lost money despite a decent turn out of customers and was generally viewed as a failure.


The managerial skills of people who distributed this coin resembled those of the people who ran the fair. Those who attended the fair coin could not buy this piece on the fair grounds. The gold pieces were sold off site by banks. The Sesquicentennial half dollar and the quarter eagle were not sold as a set, and to this day I think the association between the two coins is weak in the minds of many collectors.


The obverse features Ms. Liberty with scroll in her left hand that stands for the Declaration of Independence, and torch or freedom in her right hand. The reverse features a view of the back of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. On some examples of this coin the golden mint luster swirling in back of the building makes for a very attractive sight, but perhaps I’m the only collector who thinks that way. I think that this coin is more attractive that the 1776-1976 half dollar that was issued during the Bicentennial. The relief is low, but it’s not bad as the half dollar which shown below.




And here is the 1776 - 1976 Bicentennial half dollar.




One more gold commemorative to go ... the 1903 McKinley, but that one will have to wait until it gets back from re-holdering.


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On some examples of this coin the golden mint luster swirling in back of the building makes for a very attractive sight, but perhaps I’m the only collector who thinks that way.


You are most assuredly not the only one who thinks that way. Add me to the list.


This has turned into one heck of a thread. GREAT photos Bill!

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