Is it because it is rare and desirable?
Or has an unusual design, scarcity, or historical significance?
This article looks at 10 of the rarest, most sought-after, and historically significant gold and silver coins ever minted in the United States.
Here are just some of the amazing details about these special coins which combine age-old beauty with value:
1861 Confederate Half Dollar – crafted from a beautiful yellow-gold alloy during the American Civil War, they struck only four examples of these at the New Orleans Mint in April 1861. Only two of the four are in private hands - the other two are permanent museum display exhibits. It is one of the most valuable gold coins ever created – if you come across one, it would be worth more than $2 million.
1849 Double Eagle – every once in a while we get a glimpse into America's past with a fortuitously preserved specimen like this coin, struck just prior to California joining the union. Only two examples of James Longacre's "Eagle and Shield" design, and the detailed reproduction of the 1849 Liberty Head Double Eagle 20 Dollar coin masterpiece, are known to still exist. Each one can command prices over $3 million on auction sites.
1913 Liberty Head Double Eagle – mysterious and charmingly designed; this ultra-rare bird is distinctive among US coins for its ‘Liberty’ slogan banner above Lady Liberty’s iconic head on the obverse side of the coin. The Liberty Head Double Eagle was first issued during the California Gold Rush of 1849. It was one of America’s first gold coins, and featured a bust silhouette of Lady Liberty on the obverse side, with the words “Liberty” inscribed on her headdress and “In God, We Trust” displayed on her shoulder. It also showed thirteen stars to represent each original state of the union. On its reverse side is an impressive rendition of an eagle carrying a shield with a ribbon banner stating "E Pluribus Unum” inscribed above its wings. A few examples have shown up for sale recently with bids easily reaching close to or over $4 million dollars.
1804 Draped Bust Silver Dollar – oddly, the history of the 1804 Draped Bust Silver Dollar did not begin until President Andrew Jackson's administration. As diplomatic presents for the King of Siam and the Sultan, of what is now Oman, the State Department at the time seems to have ordered several unique sets of coins. When they heard "one coin of each denomination," the Mint became confused and started minting silver dollars again, even though these coins hadn't been struck for years. After receiving this request, the Mint, in 1834, struck a limited quantity of “1804” Draped Bust Silver Dollars using a fresh set of dies. They minted these coins again around the year 1858, but with a new reverse die and a lighter planchet. Sadly, because of vehement opposition against them, by collectors, all but one of the re-strike versions were destroyed at the mint since it struck them with nothing around their edges. A single example fetched an impressive $7 million in 2016 making it one of the most expensive coins ever sold at auction.
1794 Flowing Hair Silver Dollar – one of the most expensive and valuable coins in the world - an example fetched over $10 million in 2016. One of America’s oldest and rarest silver coins, it was issued following Congress passing a law allowing them for circulation as legal tender for payments up to 25 cents, in 1793. They contained 89% silver content which was later reduced down to 87%. Historically, this coin marks the beginning of the money that would eventually become the most influential in the world. Benjamin Franklin argued that printing American currency was a crucial step toward national independence. “Money is a symbol of authority,” he said. Professionals in the field of numismatics believe George Washington himself helped to develop the prototype for the "Flowing Hair" Silver Dollar. In 1793, a year after Congress established a national Mint, the United States began striking its first coins: copper cents. They distributed the first silver dollar coins to the public the following year. The newly minted 1794 dollar had a silver plug put in it, before striking, to ensure the coin's weight.
1933 Saint Gaudens Gold Double Eagle – struck from nearly pure 24-karat gold and bearing Lady Liberty striding against a brilliant sunrise on its obverse side, it's one of America's most iconic designs, depicting true freedom and strength through prosperous times. It was the last gold currency ever minted in the US for circulation. In 2021, one of these coins fetched over $18 million at auction. It is the only privately owned example of the coin in the world.
1877-S Half Union Pattern Coin – this was a gold pattern designed as a test for a $50 coin. It was never released into circulation - but if it had been, it would have been the largest denomination of any coin struck by the US mint. There are only two known examples of the gold coins in existence. There are several copper pattern coins around that can fetch over $300,000. The pattern prototype itself was based on the design of the “Liberty Head” Double Eagle - which had a face value of $20.
1927-D Saint Gaudens Double Eagle – almost 96 years old, yet still #1 amongst numismatists, as far as collectible popularity goes, due to never having been legally issued into consumer hands (except for prototyping/testing run batches before ceasing production) because of economic depression. This impacted production levels causing rampant hoarding by savvy buyers which drove up demand. Today, leading collectors spend hundreds of thousands of dollars securing rare examples of this beautiful coin.
1776 Silver Continental Dollar – designed by Benjamin Franklin, and originally commissioned to be struck in silver for the Continental Congress. As a form of American currency during the American Revolution, only a few silver examples remain today - although there are pewter and brass versions out there. Numismatic experts estimate the finest silver specimen to be worth $130,000, or more, because of its direct ties to the founding of the United States.
1849 gold dollar – during the 1830s the government considered the introduction of a gold dollar coin, but the relative shortage of gold available to them prevented the coin from being produced. This all changed with the discovery and mining of gold in California. There was now a plentiful local supply, and the US mint was tasked with producing the small, ½ inch coins. These were readily taken up because silver dollars were being hoarded as the price of silver rose. In all, there were three issues of the gold dollar coins until 1889. As always, with such coins, the better the grade and condition of the coin, the more valuable they are. A good gold dollar can fetch many thousands of dollars.
These ten coins represent some of the rarest, most desirable, and historically important gold and silver coins ever minted in the United States.
From revolutionary times, through modern days, each of these exceptional coins can tell stories that remind us of how far our country has come and how much we owe it to those who came before us.
As technology advances, the market value of these incredible objects will increase beyond their weight in gold and silver.
Life-long collectors amongst current generations will explore the pure marvels behind each crafting process, and treasure and learn about the social and financial history of the United States from them for decades to come.