In January 2017, I wrote a blog in the “So…You've Decided to Collect...” series about No Motto Liberty Head eagles. As the year comes to a close, I thought it would be interesting to write about the With Motto Liberty Head eagle coinage.
With Motto Liberty Head eagles were made at five different mints from 1866 through 1907. The mint-by-mint breakdown is as follows:
- Philadelphia: 1866-1907 (43 issues)
- San Francisco: 1866-1907 (38 issues)
- Carson City: 1870-1893 (19 issues)
- New Orleans: 1879-1906 (16 issues)
- Denver: 1906-1907 (2 issues)
This is a total of 118 issues. These issues run the gamut from very rare to very common. A complete set is a feasible accomplishment, although such a set will be impossible to assemble in Uncirculated as there are a number of With Motto eagles which are either unknown or excessively rare (between one and three known) in any Mint State grade.
As with the No Motto eagles, pricing rare and/or high quality With Motto eagles can be a real challenge, even for experts. A number of these issues trade so infrequently that the most recent auction comparable might be a decade (or more) ago.
It is my experience that in the Liberty Head eagle series, there are clearly four tiers of pricing. The first tier is for nice PCGS coins with CAC approval. For really scarce dates, PCGS/CAC coins command a huge price premium; sometimes this is deserved and sometimes it isn’t.
The second tier is for PCGS graded coins which are nice but which don’t qualify for CAC approval. Such coins are really tricky to price. If you don’t understand the specific issue, this is especially true. Many With Motto eagles are almost never found with the “look” which appeals to CAC and a non-CAC coin can still be “premium quality” for the issue. Conversely, just because a rare date With Motto Liberty Head eagle is in a PCGS holder, this doesn’t automatically constitute a piece worth a premium.
Tier three coins are NGC graded with CAC approval. In my opinion, these should be worth nearly as much as their PCGS counterparts, but this isn’t the case in the Liberty Head eagle series. A great “value play” for collectors is to find these coins at discounted levels and “cross” them to PCGS holders.
The fourth tier is NGC coins without CAC approval. In the rare date With Motto Liberty Head eagle series, these coins sell for significantly reduced prices versus their PCGS counterparts. Sometimes, this discount is deserved; other times it clearly is not.
Let’s take a look at the coins from each specific mint.
The With Motto eagles from this mint can be neatly split into two categories: the issues from 1866 through 1877 (except for the 1874, these are typically rare in all grades and some are non-existent in Uncirculated), and those from 1878 through 1907 (these are nearly all common dates and many are plentiful even in grades as high as the MS63 to MS65 range).
Four dates have mintages of fewer than 1,000 business strikes and one of these—the 1875—has an original mintage of just 100 business strikes.
The 1875 is an issue which I think deserves special attention. There are as few as 7-9 known, with the best grading AU53+ at PCGS. Only two have appeared at auction since 2006 and the current record price for this date is $345,000 set by a PCGS AU50 sold as Stacks Bowers 8/11: 7732. I feel that this is a dramatically undervalued issue and if a nice Uncirculated 1875 eagle were to ever show up, it would be worth a seven-figure sum.
The other rare to very rare Philadelphia issues of this type are the 1873 (800 struck for circulation), the 1876 (687 struck), and the 1877 (797 produced). These three dates are seen most often in the EF45-AU55 range, and while they have shown price increases in the last decade I believe they are still undervalued.
Two issues which don’t get as much attention but which are very rare in their own right are the 1869 (only 1,830 were made for circulation), and the 1872 (just 1,620 were struck). Around 50 of the former exist and I have only seen or handled a half dozen (at most) which were attractive. The 1872 has a similar number known but it is somewhat more available in higher (AU to MS) grades.
While the 1866-1877 Philadelphia issues are an intimidating run of dates, the 1878 through 1907 and much more available, due to higher mintages and a significant percentage of coins sent to Europe and later repatriated. This is not to say that all of these issues are “common.” In my experience, the 1884 and the 1887-1890 are scarce and undervalued in properly graded MS63, and very rare above this. The dates from the mid-1890's through 1907 are more available in higher grades although only a few (1899, 1901, and 1907) are seen in Gem with any degree of regularity.
A complete set of With Motto eagles from this mint would require very deep pockets and considerable patience.
2. San Francisco
The San Francisco issues have a dividing line of rarity which is fairly similar to that described above for the Philadelphia issues. The coins struck from 1866 through 1877 are all very rare to extremely rare in Uncirculated and are generally collected in Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated. In my experience, the most underappreciated dates in this run are the 1867-S and 1876-S.
The dates made from 1878 through 1907 are available in higher grades although many are very scarce to rare in MS62, and very rare in MS63 and above. Some of the dates that I regard as “sleepers” include the 1883-S, 1894-S, 1895-S, 1897-S, and 1900-S.
By a large factor, the most common San Francisco Liberty Head eagle of either type is the 1901-S. This date exists in bag-quantity in Europe and it is by far the most available date of this type in MS65. In fact, when you are discussing “generic “ Liberty Head eagles, you are invariably discussing this date.
Collecting With Motto eagles by date from this mint isn’t very popular due to the rare date/common date dichotomy mentioned above. I personally find the 1866-1877 dates to be one of the more overlooked areas in all of US rare date gold and these coins—often available in the $3,000-8,000 range—represent excellent value.
3. Carson City
Of the three denominations of gold struck at this mint, the eagles are the rarest and the most difficult to complete in higher grades. Every date from the 1870’s is either unknown or extremely rare in Uncirculated. Even the reasonably available 1874-CC has just two or three known in Uncirculated and it is very rare even in properly graded AU55 to AU58.
Five issues were produced at this mint in the 1880’s and except for the 1881-CC, all are rare to very rare in Uncirculated. However, it is not an unreasonable goal for the high-budget collector to aspire to a full date run of 1880’s CC eagles in Uncirculated.
Four issues were produced in the 1890’s and only one—the 1893-CC—is rare in Uncirculated. The 1891-CC is a generic issue by the standards of the Carson City mint and even a collector on a modest budget can aspire to own a nice MS61 or MS62 example.
Here is a Best Value Grade guide to Carson City eagles for the collector on a more modest budget (in this series “more modest” means $20,000 and below per coin) and for those with a healthy per-coin budget:
Collecting Carson City eagles is different from the Philadelphia and San Francisco mints discussed above. There are fewer coins but there are only a handful of non-expensive issues. Also, these coins are very popular and from a comparative value standpoint they are more fully priced. But what you lose from the standpoint of value, you gain from the standpoint of liquidity. Carson City eagles are easily the most liquid With Motto issues of this type. They are, unfortunately, the most “messed with” and that’s why I recommend careful study of the series and working with a real expert if you make the decision to work on a complete set.
4. New Orleans
I have written extensively on the With Motto eagles from New Orleans and I urge you to explore the articles/blogs archives section of this website. Let’s touch on this subject briefly and in general.
Two of the With Motto issues deserve special attention: the 1879-O and the 1883-O.
A total of 1,500 1879-O eagles were struck and fewer than 100 are known, mostly in the lower to middle AU grade range. This date is numismatically significant as the first With Motto eagle from this facility and it has become very popular in the last few years. As recently as ten years ago, I can remember selling presentable examples for less than $10,000. Today, a decent 1879-O is hard to locate for less than $20,000, and most of the pieces I have seen recently have been low-end and aesthetically unappealing.
The undisputed “king” of the With Motto New Orleans eagles is the 1883-O. Just 800 were struck which is the lowest mintage figure for any business strike issue from this mint. There are an estimated 50-60 known and the 1883-O is rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and extremely rare in Uncirculated. This is another date that was much undervalued around a decade ago. When Liberty Head eagles started to become popular around seven or eight years ago, this date seemed to double in price nearly overnight.
There are 11 common issues dated from 1888-O to 1906-O and I have written about these as well (add link here). For around $20,000-25,000 it possible to build a nice set of MS61 to MS63 late date New Orleans eagles.
There isn’t much to say about the two Denver issues of this design type. Both the 1906-D and the 1907-D are common and are generally overlooked except in high grades by type collectors.
This isn’t a series with an avid date collecting following; unlike the No Motto Liberty Head eagle type. This is due to the fact that many of the With Motto issues are somewhat boring and don’t fit the collecting-by-date rarity profile of their No Motto counterparts. That said, there are a number of collectors working on a complete set of Liberty Head eagles which means they have to buy vanilla issues like the 1888-S or the 1902-P, like it or not.
I have a few basic suggestions for these collectors. First, don’t overbuy the boring, common dates. An MS64 1888-S at $5,000-6,000 makes a lot more economic sense than an MS65 (if one exists) at $25,000++. Conversely, I would suggest stretching on the cool, low mintage dates like the 1870-CC, 1873, 1876, 1877, 1879-O, 1879-CC, and 1883-O.
Another suggestion is to really study up on this series as it is long-lived and complex. Learn about strike and which issues are “time bombs” due to potential hoards overseas. Learn which dates are nearly impossible to locate with a “CAC look” and how to detect coins which have been processed or recolored.
Would you like to work hand-in-hand with the world’s leading expert on Liberty Head eagles and all areas of rare date US gold? Contact Doug Winter by phone at (214-675-9897) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.