Assembling a Date Set of Civil War Gold Coins
In 2012 I wrote a series of articles on “Assembling a Date Set of Civil War Gold Coins.” I have updated some of the information, and compiled it here as a comprehensive, yet simple to understand, reference piece for collectors.
Civil War Gold Coins: 1861-1862
The combination of history and numismatic significance makes the United Sates gold coins struck during the Civil War era (1861 to 1865) a fascinating possible collecting area for the sophisticated numismatist. Let’s take a look at each coin produced during this year, and determine the most practical grade range for the collector.
1861 Gold Dollar.
The 1861-P dollar is common in nearly all grades and can be found even in MS65. The finest known grade MS67, and there are as many as three to five known at that level. The best that I have personally seen is ex Heritage 2/10: 1420, graded MS67 by PCGS that brought $19,550. This date typically comes with striated surfaces, but it is well struck and well-produced with good luster and color. For most collectors, a nice MS64 to MS65 should be sufficient.
1861-D Gold Dollar.
This is the most popular singular coin in the entire Civil War gold set due to its status as the only issue that is positively attributable to the Confederacy. An estimated 1500-2500 were struck, and there are probably fewer than a hundred known today. This issue is typically seen in AU50 to MS60 grades, and it is less rare in Uncirculated than commonly believed due to hoarding. As many as a dozen+ are known in Uncirculated, including a few in the MS63 to MS64 range. The finest available in the last decade was Duke’s Creek: 1493, graded MS65 by NGC that sold for $138,000. This issue is always found with weakness on the U in UNITED and it has a unique appearance. For an advanced collector, I would suggest a nice MS62 to MS63 if available.
1861 Quarter Eagle.
Over a quarter of a million were struck and this is a common issue which is well made and easy to find with good eye appeal. It is common through MS63, slightly scarce in MS64, and only marginally rare in Gem. The best I have seen are a small group of MS66 examples, and even these are priced well below $10,000. There are two varieties: the old reverse (scarce) and the new reverse (common). For most collections of Civil War gold, I would include a nice MS64 or MS65 example of this issue.
1861 Three Dollars.
Including Proofs, there a total of 6,072 examples produced. This is a scarce but not really rare date that is typically seen with lightly clashed dies and naturally striated planchets. The best I have seen is the Heritage 12/05: 30639 coin graded MS67 by Heritage which sold for $46,000. NGC has graded one coin an MS67, and it last sold for $47,000 in the Heritage 10/09 sale. The 1861 Three Dollar is typically seen in AU grades. It is slightly scarce in the lower Uncirculated grades, very scarce in MS63, and rare above this. For most collections of Civil War gold, I think a nice Uncirculated example would suffice. A Gem will be available with some patience at a cost of $20,000-30,000.
1861 Half Eagle:
This is another common issue and it is by far the most available of the four half eagles produced in 1861. It is a well-made coin that can be found with good luster and color, and an oustanding strike. The best I have seen is Stack’s 1/08: 949, graded MS66 by NGC that sold for a record $52,900. There are probably around a dozen or so Gems, and maybe two or three pieces that grade MS66. The current value for a nice MS64 is $10,000-12,000, while a Gem is at least double. Given the many expensive coins it takes to complete this set, I’d suggest going with an MS64 and saving your money for a true rarity.
1861-C Half Eagle:
With only 6,879 minted you’d expect this to be a scarce coin – and it is. But the 1861-C half eagle wasn’t a really in-demand coin until recently. That said, this is still an affordable coin in EF grades, and the collector can find a decent example in the $5,000-10,000 range. Most 1861-C half eagles are abraded and show poor quality surfaces. There are three or four known in Uncirculated with the finest being, by a large margin, the NGC MS63 sold as Heritage 1/00: 7769 at $59,800. I love the history and think it is an integral part of a comprehensive Civil War gold collection.
1861-D Half Eagle:
I have discussed this issue comprehensively in other blogs and articles so I won’t get too deeply into it here. I’d rather discuss, quickly, what the real value of this coin is right now in collector grades. Clearly, the price levels on the 1861-D (both the dollar and half eagle) have risen dramatically in recent years. I think a decent looking EF 1861-D half eagle is currently a $30,000+ coin, and a nice AU is probably worth at least $50,000. Are these good values? That’s hard to say and, as someone who remembers buying nice AU’s for $15,000, I may not be the best person to ask. But this is a critical coin in the Civil War set we are discussing here and the collector needs to be prepared to jump on the first good 1861-D half eagle he sees.
1861-S Half Eagle:
This is a much scarcer issue than its mintage of 18,000 would suggest and it is actually rarer in high grades than the 1861-C or 1861-D. I am not aware of a single Uncirculated 1861-S half eagle and I have never seen one better than AU55 to AU58. The few nice ones I have seen seem to have been off the market since the 1990′s (like the Milas coin) and today it is very hard to find one better than EF. Most 1861-S half eagles are weakly struck, well worn and have abraded surfaces. An AU50 or better with original color and surfaces would be a great addition to a Civil War gold set.
This is a common issue in nearly all circulated grades and it is not hard to find a decent looking AU coin with good luster and scattered abrasions. In Uncirculated, there are probably fewer than fifteen to twenty known with most in the MS60 to MS61 range. I recently sold a nice NGC MS61 for less than $7,000 so this isn’t an expensive coin in the lower Uncirculated grades. The finest known is an amazing PCGS MS66 from the Bass IV sale that brought $50,600; today this is easily a six-figure coin. I’d suggest an MS61 to MS62 for the Civil War collector.
The 1861-S eagle is more available than its half eagle counterpart both in terms of overall and high-grade rarity. A single Uncirculated coin is known (ex Heritage 1/12: 4977, where it brought $54,625; it is graded MS61 by NGC) as well as three to five properly graded AU55 to AU58 coins. This issue is most often seen in EF40 to AU50 grades, and it is typically bright and baggy. Well struck, naturally toned examples are very scarce, and it will prove very hard to locate an example in AU55 for this Civil War gold coin set.
1861 Double Eagle:
With nearly three million struck, the 1861 double eagle has the highest mintage of any coin in this set. It is readily available in circulated grades, and not hard to find in the MS60 to MS62 range. It becomes scarce in properly graded MS63, rare in MS64, and very rare in MS65. The finest known is a mind-boggling PCGS MS67 that, as far as I know, has been off the market since the mid-1990′s. There are maybe a dozen or so Gems known, but for most collectors the best value grade might be MS63 to MS64 with coins available, from time to time, in the $12,500-25,000 range depending on appearance and quality. This is a well-produced issue that can be really spectacular in higher grades.
1861-O Double Eagle:
This is another very historic issue and one that you read about in great depth in my book on New Orleans gold coinage. It is scarce in all grades, but it is offered a few times per year at auction or through specialist dealers like myself in EF and low AU grades. I am aware of between four and six Uncirculated examples with the finest of these grading MS61 to MS62. This is a very, very hard coin to find with good eye appeal, as most are not well struck and have been cleaned in the past few decades. Examples with natural color and choice surfaces are extremely scarce and command a strong premium over typical pieces. For a high quality Civil War set, I’d suggest an AU example, and I would hold out for as nice a piece as possible due to the importance of this issues. (NOTE: A second variety is known but it is not included in this article due to its extreme rarity. There are just two 1861 Paquet Reverse double eagles from Philadelphia currently known.)
1861-S Double Eagle:
There are two important varieties of San Francisco double eagle dated 1861. The more common of the two is the 1861-S with a normal reverse. This date is readily available in grades up to AU55, and scarce but obtainable in AU58. In Uncirculated, it is very scarce and it is very rare in MS62 or better. For most Civil War collectors, a nice MS60 to MS61 will suffice. The rarer variety is the 1861-S Paquet Reverse. There are a few hundred known, at most, and many have been found overseas since the 1970′s. This issue is typically seen in EF40 to AU50, and properly graded AU55 examples with good color and surfaces are quite rare. I have seen one or two with claims to Uncirculated, and the nicest to be sold in recent memory was Heritage 1/12: 5039, graded AU58 by NGC that brought $184,000. This is a coin that I would stretch on if I were a Civil War collector due to its unique back story and appearance.
This is a very interesting year in the annals of American gold coinage. You have coins struck this year that are very common (gold dollar, quarter eagle and double eagle), coins that are extremely rare (1861-P and 1861-S Paquet double eagles), and coins that are highly prized due to their historic connotations (1861-D dollar and half eagle, 1861-O double eagle).
1862 Gold Dollar:
This issue has a huge mintage of 1.36 million and it is very common in grades up to MS64. It is only moderately scarce in MS65, and I have sold MS66 examples recently for between $3,500 and $4,000. The best I have seen are a small number of MS67, and these are only valued at $7,500 or so. This is an issue that comes well made with good luster and color. I suggest that the Civil War collector buy a nice MS65 or MS66.
1862 Quarter Eagle:
For many years, the 1862-P quarter eagle was a “sleeper” and it was possible to buy a nice EF/AU coin for under $1,500. Prices shot up after an ill-advised promotion and now this issue is somewhat out-of-favor. It is relatively available in all circulated grades, and there are around 15-20 known in Uncirculated. The best I have seen are a group of three or four in MS64; this includes two from the Bass collection. This date is found frosty or semi-prooflike and original coins can show very nice rich color. For most Civil War collections, a nice MS62 or MS63 will be a great addition, but a properly graded MS64 at the right price (around $17,500-20,000) should merit strong consideration.
There is also an 1862/1 overdate known. I have always been a bit skeptical about this variety’s status as a true overdate, but it is recognized by both PCGS and NGC and always included in a date set of Liberty Head qurter eagles. It is scarce in all grades and very rare in Uncirculated. The best I have seen is a PCGS MS62, but I can’t recall having ever handled an Uncirculated 1862/1 that I thought was choice. Nearly every example is bright from having been dipped, and most are heavily abraded. It is possible to buy a nicer AU example in the $5,000 range and this is what I suggest for a Civil War set.
1862-S Quarter Eagle:
Only 8,000 were struck, and this overlooked issue is scarce in all grades with probably fewer than 100 known. There are three or four known in Uncirculated, and the finest by a clear margin is Goldberg 2/12: 1217, graded MS63+ by PCGS that I recently purchased for $43,700. The typical 1862-S quarter eagle grades EF, and original examples tend to show nice deep orange-gold or lighter rose shadings. Abrasions tend to be a problem for this issue and most are marked in the fields. A world-class Civil War collection would contain one of the few known examples in Uncirculated.
1862 Three Dollars:
The 1862 three dollar is scarcer than the 1861. It is an issue that is generally found in AU grades and lower end Uncirculated pieces aren’t really scarce. This date becomes rare in properly graded MS63 to MS64, and Gems are very rare with maybe four to six known. The best I have seen are a pair graded MS66; this includes ANR 3/05: 625, encapsulated by PCGS that sold for $36,800. Collectors should look for pieces with shimmering, satiny luster and light clashmarks, and avoid examples that are bright or over-abraded. For most Civil War collectors, an MS63 to MS65 will suffice.
1862 Half Eagle:
Until recently this was a nearly-forgotten issue, but the 1862 Philadelphia half eagle has suddenly become popular (and seemingly more available as well). Of the estimated 75-85 known, most are very heavily abraded, and range from VF35 to EF45. This is a tough coin in the lower AU grades, but not a really rare one until you reach AU55. There are two known in Uncirculated: a PCGS MS62 that is ex Goldberg 5/07: 1610, and a PCGS MS61 that is ex Bass II: 1140. I would suggest waiting for at least an AU55 to an AU58 for your Civil War set, and I would hold out for a coin with choice, original surfaces if possible.
1862-S Half Eagle:
While this is a very scarce coin, I think its rarity has been a bit overstated in the past few years. I think it is actually a bit more available than the 1862-P, and for some reason it seems more available in AU grades than one might expect. That said, it is still a rare coin (probably just a dozen or so exist in AU) and most are low-end coins with dipped, abraded surfaces. I know of two Uncirculated 1862-S half eagles: a PCGS MS62 (ex ANR 8/06: 1454, as PCGS MS61), and an NGC MS61 that was last sold as Heritage 11/07: 2047. A high quality Civil War set should aim for at least an AU55 to AU58.
As with its half eagle counterpart this is a rare, undervalued date whose interest level has soared recently. While 10,960 were produced, many were melted, and survivors tend to be in the EF40 to AU50 range. This issue is very scarce in AU grades, although bagmarked AU55′s are available from time to time. There are two known in Uncirculated. The finest, graded MS64 by NGC and pedigreed to the S.S. Republic shipwreck, sold for $41,975 as Lot 2004 in Bowers and Merena’s 4/05 auction. The other is a PCGS MS62 from the Bass II sale (lot 681) that sold for a very reasonable $12,650. For most Civil War collectors, a nice AU55 to AU58 example will do the trick.
This issue is probably the single rarest 1862 gold coin from any U.S. mint. It is seldom seen in any grade, and when it is available survivors are usually in very low grades. I believe that no more than five or six properly graded AU coins exist, and most are in the AU50 to AU53 range. A single Uncirculated coin is known; it was recently sold as Heritage 4/11: 5427, where it brought a remarkable $103,500. It is graded MS61 by NGC, and I have never seen another 1862-S even close to it in terms of quality. This will be an extremely hard coin for the specialist to find – and I’d suggest that the Civil War collector aggressively pursue the chance to purchase any 1862-S eagle that grades AU50 or better.
1862 Double Eagle:
The 1862 is the rarest Philadelphia double eagle made between 1850 and 1880. It is much scarcer than its original mintage figure of 92,133 would suggest, and when it is available it is likely to be found in the EF40 to AU50 range. It is very scarce in the higher AU grades, and rare in all Uncirculated grades. The best I am aware of is an NGC MS64 now in a New England collection that is ex Heritage 11/05: 2459 (where it brought $62,100). This issue is well struck and typically has satiny luster, but most are very heavily abraded. For a high-quality Civil War set, any Uncirculated 1862 double eagle would be a great addition. You can count on spending at least $30,000 for one if it becomes available.
1862-S Double Eagle:
Over 850,000 1862-S double eagles were made, and this is by far the most available 1862-S gold coin of the four different denominations that were produced. It is typically seen in EF-AU grades, and it is available even in AU55 to AU58 without much of a search. Virtually all examples show some weakness of strike at the centers and on the obverse stars, and most are considerably abraded. There are shipwreck examples of this date available from both the S.S. Brother Jonathan and the S.S. Republic, with a small number from the latter wreck grading as high as MS62. The single best 1862-S double eagle that I have seen is ex Heritage 3/11: 4925. Graded MS63 by NGC, it brought $57,500. For most collectors, an MS61 to MS62 example of this issue will fit well into their set.
There are fewer coins in the 1862 gold Civil War set than in the 1861 version, and fewer great rarities. A few of the 1862 dates are common, while most are scarce to rare. But none is unobtainable unless the collector has to have all Uncirculated coins; then some problems will ensue. All in all, this is a challenging but completable year for the Civil War set.
Assembling a Date Set of Civil War Gold Coins: 1863
Let’s look at the very interesting gold issues from 1863 – a pivotal year in the history of the brutal war, and a very significant year in the annals of American numismatic history.
1863 Gold Dollar:
While 6,200 business strikes were made, this is a rarer date than most casual collectors realize. I regard it as the single rarest gold dollar from the Philadelphia mint – rarer even than the 1875 with a mintage of just 400 pieces. The odd thing about the 1863 is that when available, it is likely to be found in the lower Uncirculated grades. As an example, there are a total of forty graded by PCGS, but over half of these (twenty one to be exact) are in Uncirculated. There are a few Gems known. The finest is an incredible PCGS MS68 owned by a California specialist that, I believe, is from the Brand collection. There is also a PCGS MS66 that is owned by a collector.
This is an issue that is well made, but one which tends to have problems with original surfaces and luster. I have seen a few really nice 1863 gold dollars, but most have been cleaned or dipped and have poor eye appeal as a result. Any nice example of this issue is very desirable. For the advanced Civil War collector, the opportunity to acquire a piece grading MS64 or above would be quite special and should be looked at as important.
1863 Quarter Eagle:
As you might recall, the mintage for the 1861 quarter eagle was an absurdly high 1,283,878. Thus, there was no real need for business strike quarter eagles in 1863. The 1863 is a proof-only issue with just 30 struck. This makes it a key rarity in the Civil War gold set and, of course, the single rarest (and most expensive) issue from 1863.
There are around 20 1863 quarter eagles known. Most are in the PR63 to PR64 range, but there are a few gems remaining including some with lovely Deep Cameo contrast between the devices and the fields. I know of at least four or five PR65′s and there may be a few more. The current auction record for this date is $149,500 for Heritage 1/07: 3107, graded PR66UC by NGC.
I have mixed feelings about the 1863 quarter eagle. In some ways, I think it is a very undervalued issue as it is the third rarest Liberty Head quarter eagle (after the 1854-S and the 1841) in terms of total known. But if you look at it merely as a Proof issue from this era, it sells for a huge premium over dates like the 1864 and 1865 which are actually as rare – if not rarer – in terms of the total known as Proofs. What needs to be remembered is that if collecting Liberty Head quarter eagles by date ever becomes fashionable, the demand for this date is likely to exceed its supply, and today’s price levels are inevitably going to seem cheap.
1863-S Quarter Eagle:
As you might expect, the 1863-S quarter eagle tends to be overlooked due to the rarity of its Proof-only Philadelphia counterpart. With just 10,800 struck, it is scarce in its own right. There are an estimated 100-125 extant with most in the VF-EF range. An accurately graded AU50 to AU55 1863-S quarter eagle with nice color and surfaces is scarce, and a properly graded AU58 is very rare. There are three or four in Uncirculated including two Gems: ANR 3/06: 1457 which sold for $50,600 (it is ex Eliasberg: 198), and the Dodson: 41 example that brought $18,700 all the way back in May 1992 when it was sold by Mid-American.
There are a few examples known of this date that are very weakly struck at the centers; this seems to be the result of an improper alignment of the dies. Most are well-detailed but have unoriginal surfaces. The natural coloration for this issue is a medium to deep rose-gold to reddish hue, which can be very appealing. For most Civil War date collections, a nice AU example of the 1863-S quarter eagle will suffice – but I think Uncirculated pieces, if available, are good value.
1863 Three Dollars:
This is one of the odder issues from the Civil War era. With just 5,000 business strikes made, you would expect the 1863 three dollar to be a rarity. While it is reasonably scarce from an overall standpoint, it is the most available Civil War issue of this denomination in Uncirculated, and there are actually as many as a dozen to fifteen Gem to Superb Uncirculated pieces known. I have seen 1863 Threes that grade as high as MS67 to MS68, and I know of an example in a well-known dealer’s collection (graded MS67 by PCGS) that is probably the single best business strike Three Dollar gold from the Civil War era of any date.
Nearly all 1863 Threes have prominent clashmarks at the centers and numerous mint-made die striations in the fields. The quality of strike is usually sharp, and the luster tends to be excellent. There are a number of outstanding examples known, and a collector should be able to find a great piece for his Civil War set. I’d suggest at least an MS64, if not a Gem.
1863 Half Eagle:
There were 2,442 business strike half eagles made at the Philadelphia mint in 1863. There are around three-dozen known today, and while a number have been graded AU50 and better by NGC and PCGS, this is an extremely rare coin in higher grades. It is unknown in Uncirculated, and I have seen maybe six to eight that I thought were truly About Uncirculated. The best I can recall was the PCGS AU58 Bass II: 1143 coin which went cheaply at $13,800, and it has been years since I’ve seen an AU example with even the slightest amount of eye appeal.
This is a date that saw quite a bit of circulation, and the few that survived the melting pot tend to have excessive abrasions on the surfaces. In addition, nearly every 1863 half eagle that I have seen has been cleaned or dipped. As a result, examples with even decent eye appeal are exceedingly rare and the collector who only wants nice, original coins for his Civil War date set is going to find the 1863 half eagle to be a very frustrating issue. That said, I’d suggest waiting for the best available piece – which is likely to be around AU55 or so.
1863-S Half Eagle:
Demand for gold coins remained high in the western states during the Civil War, and the mintage figure for the 1863-S half eagle was 17,000 – nearly seven times more than for the 1863 Philadelphia half eagle. The 1863-S is certainly not seven times more available than the 1863-P; it saw heavy use in commerce and was later melted extensively. I have seen estimates that as many as 60-75 are known, but this seems high; the likely number is more like 50-65, with most of these in very low grades. There is a single 1863-S half eagle known in Uncirculated (it is graded MS61 by PCGS) and there are maybe as many as seven to ten in AU. The current record for the date is $25,875 set by the NGC 58 sold as Lot 9489 in Stack’s 6/11 auction.
When available, this date is found with better eye appeal than the 1863-P but not by much. The luster tends to be decent but most 1863-S half eagles are abraded (often heavily) and show evidence of cleaning or dipping. Any coin with original color and surfaces is rare and desirable. The Civil War collector should look for a nice AU53 to AU55 for his set.
And now we get to my favorite 1863 gold issue: the 1863 Philadelphia eagle. The mintage of this issue is a tiny 1,218 business strikes and by most accounts, there are around 30 or so known. The 1863 is the second rarest Liberty Head eagle from this mint after the 1875, and it is one of the hardest issues of the entire design to locate in all grades despite not being all that well known. This date is unique in Uncirculated (a PCGS MS63 that is ex Bass IV: 683 at $52,900; and earlier ex MARCA 9/91: 755, sold to Harry Bass for a then-remarkable $104,500). There are around six to nine known in About Uncirculated and I can’t recall having seen more than two or three that I felt were AU55 or AU58.
My comments for this issue are very similar to the 1863-P half eagle. It is a coin that saw rough use in commerce, and the few that survive tend to show numerous abrasions, often in obtrusive locations. You can almost forget about eye appeal when it comes to this date, but I’d say that if you ever have the chance to obtain an 1863 eagle with an even remotely decent appearance, I’d suggest you approach it aggressively.
There were 10,000 eagles struck at the San Francisco mint in 1863. This is a rare issue, although not as much so as the 1863-P. I believe that there are around 50 or so known, with most in the EF40 to AU50 range. As surprising as it seems, there may be as many as three 1863-S eagles known. The best is a PCGS MS61 that is ex Heritage 10/95: 6330, and before this was in the Norweb collection. The Bass IV: 684 coin was also a PCGS MS61. NGC has graded an MS61 that was last sold as Goldberg 2/09:1535. There are also a few reasonably nice AU’s known, including at least one from the S.S. Republic graded AU58 by NGC.
As with nearly all SF Civil War era gold, the 1863-S eagle is seldom found with natural color and surfaces. It is an issue that is somewhat better made than in its half eagle counterpart, and the few higher grade pieces known have better than average quality luster. This will not prove to be as challenging an issue to find as the 1863-P eagle, but it is a rarity in its own right, and any collection that has a nice AU55 or better example will probably never need to improve upon this.
1863 Double Eagle:
After the 1862, the 1863 is the hardest Philadelphia double eagle from the Civil War to locate. There are a few hundred known in all grades, with EF40 to AU50 examples being the most often seen. This date becomes scarce in the higher AU grades, although it is far more available than, say, the 1863-P half eagle or eagle. In Uncirculated there are around two dozen known, with most in the MS60 to MS61 range. The finest known is a single MS64 graded by PCGS; I believe this was once sold as Akers 8/90: 1960, and it brought $41,800, long before the Type One double eagle market was as active as it is today.
This is a well-made issue that is better struck than the 1863-S double eagle and generally less abraded as well. The patient Civil War gold coin collector should be able to locate a nice AU example without much of a problem. An Uncirculated coin, at least in the MS60 to MS61 range, will be available from time to time as well. Anything that grades MS62 or finer will prove extremely hard to locate.
1863-S Double Eagle:
The mintage for this one issue (966,570) is considerably more than all the other San Francisco gold denominations combined. Much of the newly discovered gold from California and Nevada was being used to produce double eagles, and these coins saw active use in commerce.
The 1863-S double eagle is the most common gold coin of this year in circulated grades. It is possible to procure a presentable example in the $2,000-3,000 range, and a nice Choice AU for around $5,000. In Uncirculated, the rarity of this date takes on a different profile. The 1863-S is scarce in MS60 to MS61, and very rare in properly graded MS62, with maybe five or six known. In MS63 there are probably another three or four. The finest known is currently an NGC MS64* that recently sold for $43,125 as Lot 5041 in the Heritage 1/12 auction.
As a year, 1863 is one of the most interesting of the Civil War era. It is a year that has some really scarce coins, but unlike the 1861, it has nothing that is impossible to find at any price (such as the 1861-P Paquet), or expensive due to its rarity and/or popularity. 1863 is a year that will prove extremely challenging to locate in higher grades, and there are no “slam dunk” issues like the 1861 and 1862 gold dollars that will be easy to locate even in Gem grades.
Assembling a Year Set of Civil War Gold Coins: 1864
Let’s take a closer look at the gold coinage of 1864. This was, of course, a pivotal year in the war’s outcome as well as a very interesting year in the history of American gold coinage. Mintage figures were mostly very low and a number of rare, undervalued coins are known. My personal opinion is that this is the most interesting year of Civil War numismatics, and I still get very excited when I handle a high quality gold coin dated 1864.
1864 Gold Dollar:
A total of 5,900 business strikes were produced along with 50 Proofs. The grade distribution of this date is odd, to say the least. The 1864 dollar is not often seen in circulated grades, and almost never below AU55. It is seen with some frequency in MS61 to MS63, but surprisingly, high-quality Uncirculated pieces exist in enough quantity to suggest that a hoard existed at one time. There are a few exceptional coins known, including four or five in MS68, and a PCGS MS69, ex Superior 2/05: 3402 at $77,000 (which is the finest Civil War era gold coin I have ever seen). This issue is known for nice, frosty luster, and high grade coins show pleasing rose and orange-gold color. Most examples are extensively clashed. The advanced collector of Civil War gold coins should be able to find a really nice 1864 dollar for his set, with an MS66 or MS67 not out of the question.
1864 Quarter Eagle:
As most collectors realize, the quarter eagle denomination was an afterthought at the Philadelphia mint from 1863 to 1865. After a Proof-only emission of just 30 coins in 1863, the mintage for 1864 was 2,824 business strikes, plus another 50 Proofs. The 1864 is among the rarest quarter eagles ever produced, with an estimated 20 or so known in all grades. As with most of the Philadelphia gold issues from this era, the 1864 quarter eagle didn’t see enough circulation to be found in lower grades (unlike the lower denomination gold issues from San Francisco), so most survivors are in the EF45 to AU55 range. There are three known in Uncirculated: an NGC MS61, a PCGS MS61, and an NGC MS67 (ex Byron Reed collection and sold by Spink’s in October 1996 for $132,000). This issue is a major rarity and will prove difficult to acquire in any grade. I recently sold a choice PCGS EF45 with CAC approval for $19,500; nice AU’s are now bringing in the low to mid 40′s.
1864 Three Dollars:
Despite a low mintage of 2,630 business strikes (lower even than the quarter eagle of this year), the 1864 three dollar is only a moderately scarce issue. It is available in circulated grades and can be found in the lower Uncirculated range without much effort. It becomes scarce in properly graded MS63, and it is rare in MS64 and above. Gems are very rare. The finest that I have personally seen is the ANR 3/05: 627 coin, graded MS66 by PCGS, that sold for $36,800. This is a well-made issue with good luster and detail. Many examples show clashmarks in the fields as well as horizontal die finishing lines. For most Civil War collections, a nice MS63 to MS64 will suffice. Slabbed MS65′s are extremely rare and many years might pass until one is offered.
1864 Half Eagle:
By 1864 the supply of gold bullion available to the Philadelphia mint was extremely low, due to hoarding brought on by economic uncertainty. This is evidenced by issues like the 1864 half eagle, which had a mintage of 4,170 business strikes, plus another 50 Proofs. There are around five dozen 1864 half eagles known, with most in the EF40 to AU50 range. This is a rare issue in AU55 to AU58, and it is extremely rare in Uncirculated. I know of just two: the Heritage 9/07: 3436 ($18,975) ex Bass II: 1148 coin (graded MS61 by PCGS), and Milas: 529 (which sold for $14,300 back in 1995) which was graded MS61 by NGC. This is a coin that is seldom seen with good eye appeal. Most have been cleaned and show impaired luster as a result. For most advanced collectors, an AU55 to AU58 is about the best that can be hoped for.
1864-S Half Eagle:
Generally, Civil War gold coinage production was higher at the San Francisco mint than at Philadelphia due to more available bullion. This was not the case with the 1864-S half eagle (or eagle; see below) which saw just 3,888 struck. This is one of the great rarities of the entire Liberty Head half eagle series, with an estimated 20 or so known. This issue also differs from many of the Philadelphia gold coins of this era in that few survivors exist over EF45. In fact, I can’t account for more than three or four properly graded AU pieces. There is one sensational Gem known (graded MS65 by PCGS, and better than 65 by today’s standards) that is in a Southern collection and is ex Bass II: 1150 ($178,250), and Norweb I: 875 ($110,000). This is one of my absolute favorite United States gold coins of any date or denomination, and a Civil War set that included this piece would truly be “one for the ages.”
The 1864 eagle is slightly scarcer than the 1864 half eagle in terms of overall rarity (around 50 are known from the original mintage of 3,530 business strikes), but it is a rarer coin in high grades. Although a few have been graded MS61 by NGC, I have never seen one that I felt was better than AU55/58, and I feel that there are fewer than 10 properly graded AU examples known. This is an extremely hard issue to find with good eye appeal as most are very abraded and show impaired luster from having been dipped and/or cleaned. Any 1864 with original color and surfaces is very rare. For most Civil War collectors, an AU50 to AU53 example is about the best coin that may be available. With patience and luck it might be possible to find an AU55.
While the 1864 quarter eagle is probably rarer, the 1864-S eagle is the 1864-dated gold coin that most collectors would like to own. Of the 2,500 struck, it is likely that two dozen, survive and this includes a number of very well worn or damaged examples. As rare as its half eagle counterpart is in higher grades, the 1864-S eagle is even rarer; I know of just two or three in AU, and the best of these is ex Bass III: 656, graded AU55 by PCGS that sold for $36,800 (it would bring four or five times this amount today, if not more…). The concept of eye appeal is irrelevant when it comes to this issue. Needless to say, any 1864-S with original color and surfaces is extremely rare and highly desirable. A Civil War gold set with the 1864-S eagle in EF would be impressive; a set with this issue in AU50 or higher would be a stunning accomplishment.
1864 Double Eagle:
What little gold that was available to the Philadelphia mint in 1864 was used primarily to make double eagles, and 204,235 were struck – nearly as many as in 1862 and 1863 combined. Compared to the other Philadelphia issues from 1864 that I have discussed, the 1864-P double eagle is common. But this being a double eagle, it is far more popular and it must be considered in that context. The collector who is seeking a circulated 1864 double eagle should be able to locate a nice piece without having to spend much more than $5,000. Finding an Uncirculated example is another story, as this issue remains rare in Uncirculated, despite the fact that a small number were found in the S.S. Republic treasure. The finest known is a wonderful PCGS MS65 that is ex Heritage 8/11: 7651 (as NGC MS64+), where it sold for a record-breaking $207,000.
1864-S Double Eagle:
This is easily the most available gold coin dated 1864, as you would expect from its high mintage of 793,660. It is hard to state with certainty how many are known today, but the actual number could be as high as 1,500-2,000 as examples are still being found in Europe. This date used to be exceedingly rare in Uncirculated, but examples grading MS60 to MS63 were found in the S.S. Brother Jonathan shipwreck, and then a smaller number of choice pieces were found in the S.S. Republic. This second shipwreck is the source of the current highest graded 1864-S, an NGC MS65 that sold for a remarkable $115,000.
This is an easy issue to find in nice AU grades, and examples with original color and surfaces are still around. Non-seawater Uncirculated examples are very rare. For most Civil War collectors, a nice MS62 or MS63 “Bro Jo” would be a great choice for their set.
The gold coins dated 1864 contain some really rare issues (most notably the 1864-P quarter eagle, and the 1864-S half eagle and eagle), but there are no “impossible” coins. As with all Civil War years, these coins are, for the most part, extremely rare in high grades. Ironically, some of the greatest individual Civil War coins are dated 1864 – the Byron Reed 1864-P quarter eagle, and the Bass/Norweb 1864-S half eagle, are the two that come to mind.
Assembling a Year Set of Civil War Gold Coins: 1865
In the final part of this educational article about the gold coinage from the Civil War era, we now focus on 1865, the final year of the conflict. Viewed as a whole, 1865 is an interesting coinage year, although there are not as many extreme rarities as in 1863 or 1864. That said, 1865 remains a challenging year for the collector of United States gold, as the following information will show.
1865 Gold Dollar:
The 1865 is second only to the 1863 in terms of overall rarity in the Civil War gold dollar series. However, it is more available in higher grades with a surprising number of Gem and Superb Gem examples known. The finest I have seen is a PCGS MS68 sold as Heritage 3/08: 1356 for $34,500. There are at least two or three others that grade MS67, and a decent number of MS66′s. Original examples show good frosty luster and rich yellow and green-gold coloration. Most are struck from clashed dies, yet are well detailed overall. This date is not often available in the more affordable collector grades, and when a nice AU55-MS62 does come up for sale it brings well over current published price levels. For a high-quality set, the grades to focus on are MS65 to MS66.
1865 Quarter Eagle:
The final quarter eagle of the rare three-year run from 1863 to 1865, this issue has an original mintage of only 1,520, plus 25 Proofs. It is not as rare as the 1864 quarter eagle but it is a very difficult coin to find with fewr than three dozen known in all grades. The 1865 is unique in Uncirculated, with a single MS63 graded at PCGS. The next best available coins are a small group of AU58′s, which are currently valued in the $20,000-25,000, range depending on quality. This is a nearly impossible coin to find with original color and surfaces, and it is actually a bit more difficult to find with good eye appeal than the more acclaimed 1864. For a high quality Civil War set, finding a choice AU55 to AU58 would be an impressive accomplishment.
1865-S Quarter Eagle:
Due to its relatively high mintage figure of 23,376 (and its relative availability in higher grades), the 1865-S quarter eagle is not a highly regarded issue. It is actually extremely rare in Uncirculated, with just two or three known, including a wonderful PCGS MS64 that sold for $20,700 as Bass IV: 218 in 2000. Most are seen in the EF45-AU55 range with a decent strike, but scuffy surfaces and stripped color. Uncleaned examples are rare and tend to show soft frosty luster below rose and orange-gold hues. Most collectors will search for a choice AU58 for their sets, but the more stalwart collectors of Civil War gold coinage might hold out for an Uncirculated example; a PCGS MS62 sold for less than $10,000 in a fairly recent Stack’s Bowers auction.
1865 Three Dollars:
This low mintage date (just 1,140 business strikes made) is by far the scarcest Civil War era Three Dollar issue. Of the 100 or so known, most are in the AU55 to MS61 range. The finest I am aware of is ANR 5/05: 628, graded MS67* by NGC, which brought a record-setting $57,500. This is a well-produced coin that is generally better struck than the earlier Civil War dates, and which lacks the vertical striations seen on many of these dates. The luster tends to be satiny or semi-prooflike and the natural coloration is often a rich orange-gold hue. For most Civil War collections, a coin in the MS62 to MS64 range will be the best fit.
1865 Half Eagle:
The mintage for the 1865 half eagle is tiny, with just 1,270 business strikes and another 25 Proofs. I have only seen one business strike example that I felt was Uncirculated (an NGC MS61 that was last sold as Lot 530 in Stack’s Milas auction of 1995 for $18,700), and one or two properly graded AU58′s. The NGC population figure of five in Uncirculated includes at least one Proof that has been mistakenly called a business strike, and some duplicate submissions. Most 1865 half eagles are prooflike and heavily abraded. Pieces generally are seen in the EF45-AU55 range but seldom have good eye appeal, and almost never show natural coloration. Despite this date’s obvious rarity, it remains very undervalued with AU examples still selling below $10,000. For most Civil War collectors, a nice, properly graded AU55 to AU58 would be a good purchase for their set.
1865-S Half Eagle:
This date is, by far, the most available San Francisco half eagle from the Civil War era. There were 27,612 struck, and a few hundred are known with most showing a good degree of wear from use in local commerce. The typical example is an abraded EF40 to AU50. The finest known, by a large margin, is a PCGS MS64 from the S.S. Brother Johnathan which originally sold for $48,300 in May 1999; it has been sold twice at auction since then and was last offered as ANR 1/04: 480, where it brought $43,700. There are one or two others that have claims to Uncirculated, but the 1865-S is very rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58. The few known with original color show nice rose and green-gold hues. This is a issue that should be obtainable in the medium About Uncirculated grades and such a coin, when available, will not be that expensive.
The mintage figure for this issue is 3,985 business strikes with an additional 25 Proofs made for collectors. There are an estimated 50-75 known in all grades with most showing a considerable amount of circulation. The 1865 eagle is unique in Uncirculated (a PCGS MS63 which I have never seen), and it is very rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58. Most seen are VF and EF coins with heavy abrasions and impaired reflective surfaces. This is a well-produced issue but it saw heavy circulation and, as a result, problem-free, original coins are extremely rare. In my opinion, this is a very undervalued date as presentable examples can still be obtained for under $10,000. For most collectors, an AU55 example of this issue would be an excellent addition to their Civil War set.
1865-S Normal Date Eagle:
There are two varieties of 1865-S eagle known. The first, which has a Normal Date, is the rarer with an estimated three dozen or so known. The total mintage of this date is 16,700 and it is possible that around 5,000 to 7,000 were struck with the Normal Date obverse. This variety is usually seen with bright surfaces, multiple bagmarks, and a sunken appearance which is especially prominent at the reverse center. I have never seen or heard of an Uncirculated 1865-S Normal Date eagle, and am aware of just two or three with claims to the AU55 to AU58 range. While not an inexpensive coin, I think it is still undervalued given the fact that it is among the ten rarest issues in the entire Liberty Head eagle series. An advanced Civil War collection with a nice mid-to-high level AU will have a coin that is not likely to ever be improved.
1865-S Inverted Date Eagle:
There are few United States gold coins with a higher “cool factor” than this variety. The 186 in the date was originally punched upside down and was then corrected. This can be seen with the naked eye, and it is a variety that is not seen on more than a handful of other United States issues. While more available than its Normal Date counterpart in terms of overall rarity, the Inverted Date is rarer in high grades. It is extremely rare in AU with no more than three or four known, and it is exceedingly rare in Uncirculated with exactly two known. The finest is a PCGS MS64 that is originally from the Brother Jonathan hoard. It sold for $115,000 in 1999, and when it was resold by Bowers and Merena in their 8/01 auction it brought only $81,650; the second finest is an NGC MS62 from the S.S. Republic that is now owned by a western specialist. This is an issue that is generally seen with a very flat strike at the centers and heavy wear, which impairs the luster. Most are in the VF-EF range and have been dipped, as well as showing excessive abrasions. A nice AU example of this fascinating variety would make a great addition to a Civil War set.
1865 Double Eagle:
This is the second most available Civil War double eagle from this mint, but it is still many times scarcer than the common 1861. The 1865 double eagle is reasonably easy to find in all circulated grades, although nice AU55 to AU58 examples with choice surfaces and natural color are harder to find than their population at PCGS and NGC would suggest. Until the discovery of the S. S. Republic shipwreck, this date was unknown in the higher Uncirculated grades. This hoard included a number of MS64 and MS65 examples, and there are currently (as of 10/13) 25 graded MS65 by NGC. These high-grade 1865 double eagles are gorgeous coins with great luster and surfaces, and they would make a great addition to a Civil War set. For collectors who are more inclined to own a coin with natural surfaces, the best available quality will be in the MS61 to MS62 range.
1865-S Double Eagle:
Slightly over one million double eagles were struck at the San Francisco mint in 1865, and this is the most common single gold issue produced during this year. The 1865-S is easy to locate in all circulated grades and choice, original AU55 to AU58 examples are still available without a huge effort – or premium. This date was, at one time, very rare in Uncirculated, but close to five hundred examples were located when the S.S. Brother Jonathan was salvaged. Today, it is possible to find an 1865-S in grades up to and including MS65. These coins typically show more of a matte-like surface than other shipwreck double eagles from this era, but it is possible to find a nice, attractive coin with some patience. For most Civil War collectors an MS64 to MS65 example of the 1865-S double eagle with a shipwreck provenance will be a perfect coin for their collection.
So, there you have it: a guide to the Civil War era gold issues from the United States. This is clearly one of the most fascinating – and challenging – sets that a collector can tackle. Due to the rarity and high cost of many coins, the Civil War set is not for everyone. But for the collector with a deep pocketbook and a considerable amount of patience, I can think of few other sets that offer the potential rewards that this one does.
For more information regarding Civil War gold coins, please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of the images above appear courtesy of Heritage.