While writing my October 2017 article on Liberty Head eagles (click here to read), I spent time discussing the With Motto San Francisco issues, struck from 1866 to 1907. Three dates stood out as being overlooked and underappreciated and I think it would be useful to take a closer look at these.
There were 9,000 eagles dated 1867-S produced. This issue appears to have seen considerable use in local commerce and many of the five dozen or so which have survived are in lower grades.
According to PCGS’ October 2017 population figures, the following numbers are recorded for the 1867-S eagle:
- G-VF: 15 graded
- EF: 9 graded
- AU: 11 graded (three in AU55 with none finer)
- Unc: 0 graded
- Total: 35 graded
In the lower AU grades, this issue is very rare with the “11” graded by PCGS including some resubmissions and some overgraded coins. The best two I am aware of is the NGC AU58 (in my opinion, an AU55 by PCGS standards) which sold for $17,625 as Heritage 2/14: 5381 and the PCGS/CAC AU55 which brought a record $23,000 as Stacks Bowers 2/12: 4336.
Despite the indisputable rarity of this issue, it has a suggested retail value (as per the PCGS Price Guide) of just $10,500 in AU50 and $14,000 in AU53. In my opinion, these figures seem very low, especially for properly graded PCGS coins with nice surfaces and reasonably original color.
Both the half eagle and eagle dated 1876-S are curiously overlooked issues, in spite of low original mintage figures. For the 1876-S eagle, a total of 5,000 were made. I feel that there are 65-75 known and this date is just a smidgen more available, overall, than the 1867-S.
According to the PCGS October 2017 population figures, the following numbers are recorded for the 1876-S eagle:
- G-VF: 15 graded
- EF: 34 graded
- AU: 18 graded (two in AU55 with none finer)
- Unc: 0 graded
- Total: 67 graded
It is my belief that the numbers for this date are skewed by resubmissions. PCGS shows 22 examples graded in EF45 and 10 in AU50. I find it unlikely that nearly half of the coins graded in total for this date fall within this range.
The 1876-S eagle is seen most often in the VF-EF range, and nice EF45 coins are scarce despite the seemingly high PCGS population. At the current $6,000-7,000 level, a nice EF45 with original color and surfaces is a very good value.
In AU grades, this issue is rare and many of the pieces in AU50 and AU53 holders are not choice. The best I have seen is the PCGS AU55 which brought a record-setting $22,325 as Stacks Bowers 11/13: 2223.
The PCGS Price Guide has a suggested retail value of $9,000 in AU50 and $16,000 in AU53. The 1876-S is not an inexpensive coin but it still feels like a good value for a properly graded example.
I hesitated listing this as the third underappreciated With Motto Liberty Head eagle for two reasons. The first is that this date is a classic condition rarity (i.e., it is rare only in MS63 and higher grades), and the second is that there is a very real possibility of rolls (or even bags) of nice 1882-S eagles still lying in European bank vaults.
The PCGS population figures for this date in Uncirculated are as follows:
- MS60-62: 251 graded
- MS63: 17 graded
- MS64: 1 graded
- MS65: 1 graded
What makes this date interesting is the fact that most of the MS62 and MS63 examples of this date are very low end with heavy abrasions and impaired luster. This is verified by the fact that CAC has approved just six in total with three in MS62, a single coin in MS63 and none finer. Now, this might be due to the fact that most MS60-63 1882-S eagles aren’t sent to CAC due to their “generic-ness.” But other San Francisco dates of this era (1881-S, 1883-S, 1884-S, etc.) have higher CAC population figures.
The intriguing thing about the 1882-S eagle is its low price. A nice MS62 will run you around $1,000-1,250, while an MS63 will cost around $2,500. If you are very selective and find a nice example, if it stickers at CAC you suddenly have a conditionally rare coin at a very reasonable level. Better yet, if a large quantity of nice 1882-S eagles come on the market, your $1,250 MS62 has very little downside.
A quick word of caution: unless you are working on a Finest Known set of With Motto eagles, I would avoid an MS64 or higher 1882-S given the uncertainty of higher grade examples being located.
There are other dates that I considered including in this list. I think the 1866 Motto is undervalued (and it is important as a first-year type issue), as are the 1869 and the 1871. The low mintage 1877 isn’t an inexpensive date but I think it is undervalued at current levels. Same goes for the popular, low-mintage 1879-O eagle.
The With Motto Liberty Head eagle set is a mixed bag of very common to very rare issues and it is less collector-friendly than the No Motto eagles but I think it is very collectible in its own right.
Do you want to assemble a meaningful set of Liberty Head eagles? Why not call Doug Winter at (214) 675-9897 to discuss how you can begin a set, refine a set or complete a set. Doug has helped assemble many sets of both No Motto and With Motto eagles and he is recognized as a leading expert in the area of rare date US gold coinage.