In the recent Stacks Bowers 2016 ANA Sale, I was fortunate to purchase an amazing 1860 double eagle, graded MS65 by PCGS, which was part of the Bull Run Collection and earlier was sold as Lot 900 in the famous October 1982 Eliasberg Collection auction.
I paid $141,000 for it the other day; it had last sold in 1982 for $12,100. The coin is now owned by a New England collector who has built one of the two greatest collections of Type One double eagles formed in the modern era.
After I bought this coin, I told another dealer that the Eliasberg 1860 “was the finest non-shipwreck Type One double eagle I had ever owned.” This got me to thinking: just how rare are non-shipwreck MS65 and finer double eagles of this type?
Before I begin, here’s a little background for new collectors. Until the early to mid- 1990’s, Type One double eagles were all but unknown in Gem Uncirculated (MS65 and finer). The discovery of three shipwrecks (the S.S. Central America, the S.S. Brother Jonathan, and the S.S. Republic) made a few dates (1855-S, 1856-S, 1857-S, 1865, and 1865-S) much more available in higher grades than ever before. To me, the ubiquity of Gem 1857-S double eagles (PCGS has graded 917 in MS65, 185 in MS66, and 12 in MS67) makes collectors forget just how rare these big coins are in very high grades.
Let’s take a look at the Type One double eagles graded MS65 by PCGS and specifically discuss each issue for which a Gem (or Gems) exist.
Type One Double Eagles (non-shipwreck) Graded by PCGS as of August 2016
1854 Small Date: This coin is owned by Bill Crawford and it is currently part of the AWA collection. It is notable as the only pre-1860 double eagle graded MS65 by PCGS which is unquestionably not sourced from a shipwreck.
1854-S: PCGS has graded two in MS65. One is in the Crawford collection while the other was last sold as Heritage 10/08: 3013. While PCGS does not note this, these two coins both are actually from a little-known shipwreck called the S.S. Yankee Blade which was found in the late 1970’s off the coast of California. So, while I include these on the list they are, in fact, shipwreck coins.
1860: This coin is discussed above and it is now owed by a New England collector. I believe it is the second finest non-shipwreck Type One after the famous 1861 in MS67 which is discussed below.
1861: The figure of “4” MS65’s graded seems accurate although I have only personally seen two different ones; the last one to trade at auction brought $66,125 as Stacks Bowers 11/11: 9860. The sole MS67 example of this date is a very famous coin whose detailed sales history can be found in my eBook www.doubleeaglebook.com. It is universally believed to be the best Type One in existence and while I don’t know who currently owns it, I’m guessing it’s a “type coin on steroids” in someone’s set.
1864: This coin is owned by the same New England collector who owns the 1860 in MS65. I purchased it for him as Lot 5812 in the Heritage 4/14 sale at $282,000.
1865: This coin is actually from a shipwreck (S.S. Republic) although when I saw it, it wasn’t designated as such by PCGS. It sold for $88,125 as Heritage 4/13: 4575.
Remarkably, this list covers every single MS65 Type One Liberty Head double eagle not from the S.S. Central America. If we eliminate the two 1854-S and the 1865 as being from lesser-known shipwrecks, this leaves us with just seven distinct coins—and this is assuming that the PCGS population figure of four for the 1861 in MS65 is accurate.
While it is certainly possible that a few more PCGS-graded Gem quality Type One double eagles will come onto the marketplace in the coming years, I think we can safely state that even with gradeflation and aggressive crossover attempts (NGC to PCGS) that under a dozen pieces are likely to exist.
Are you interested in high-quality Liberty Head double eagles? Why not deal with the dealer who literally “wrote the book(s)” on these coins and who has handled more great individual Twenty Libs than anyone else? Call Doug Winter at (214) 675-9897 to discuss your goals.