There are numerous San Francisco which are well known for their typically ratty appearance. This “rattiness” may be the result of extensive commercial use, numismatic abuse, or poor strike/planchet preparation. This blog is not about these issues; it is about some of the seemingly more available issues which—in my experience—are surprisingly difficult to locate with good eye appeal.
Not all of these issues are rare; some are actually fairly available in terms of total extent. But all of these have proven to be more elusive than most collectors realize if good eye appeal is taken into account. The best thing about this group of a dozen issues: they are for the most part affordable.
1. 1865-S Quarter Eagle
While not as rare as its other San Francisco Civil War counterparts, the 1865-S quarter is a tough coin to locate with original color and nice surfaces. Many are softly struck and few retain their natural color. This date is quite rare in Uncirculated but still affordable; I recently sold a nice PCGS MS62 for around $8,000 and this issue is a population 4 issue in this grade with just two finer.
2. 1875-S Quarter Eagle
This is an unheralded date that isn’t really that scarce in circulated grades but which is really tough in AU55 and better with good eye appeal. Most are seen with an especially grainy appearance and the obverse has a soft, somewhat sunken appearance. There are around a dozen known in Uncirculated (mostly in the MS62 to MS63 range) which leads me to think a small hoard existed at one time.
3. 1855-S Three Dollars
The 1855-S is popular as the first of just four regular issue Three Dollar gold pieces from San Francisco and it is the rarest both in terms of overall and high grade rarity. This date is usually found in the EF45 to AU53 range and almost never with natural color and choice surfaces. This date becomes expensive in AU58 and very few of the pieces I have seen in these holders are choice. I am aware of three or four in Uncirculated with the finest being the Pogue PCGS MS62+ which sold for $55,225 in early 2016.
4. 1861-S Half Eagle
With just a few exceptions (1855-S and 1856-S), the No Motto half eagles from this mint are really hard to locate with original color and choice surfaces. I chose one date—the 1861-S—as I find it to be underrated in spite of its obvious rarity and Civil War issuance. I’ve never personally seen an 1861-S which graded higher than AU53 to AU55 and I can count on one hand the number of choice pieces I’ve seen which graded higher than Extremely Fine.
5. 1872-S Half Eagle
A number of San Francisco half eagles from this era fit the rarity profile shown by the 1872-S. This date is only moderately scarce below AU50 but it becomes very scarce in AU55 and very rare above this. I have seen or handled a number of AU 1872-S half eagles (BTW: a nice AU55 at around $4,000 is an exceptional value) but very few of these have been nice. No one currently seems to care about this date but it is extremely undervalued.
6. 1875-S Half Eagle
This date gets overshadowed by its low mintage counterpart the 1876-S but it is scarce in terms of its overall rarity (under 100 exist) and it is very hard to find in nice AU with original “skin.” Other than one great Uncirculated example—an NGC MS64 which was earlier sold as a PCGS MS63 in the Bass II auction—there are very few choices pieces known. Many have been scrubbed and the quality of strike seen on this date is below average.
7. 1855-S Eagle
I have written about this date before and I like the 1855-S eagle a lot. Not only is it extremely hard to locate above EF45, virtually all the coins in AU holders are either scrubbed or ultra-baggy. I can recall maybe two or three really nice EF 1855-S eagles, one of which I sold at a FUN show around three or four years ago. The PCGS Price Guide for an EF45 is only $4,200 and if you can find a really nice one at around this level, you’ve just ripped a coin.
8. 1862-S Eagle
At today’s levels no Civil War eagle can be said to be underpriced. But at least one—the 1862-S—is underappreciated in my opinion. There are around 60 known in total and I would guesstimate that 85-90% of these are unappealing. This is especially true in higher grades (AU50 and up in this case) where the 1862-S is a major appearance rarity. A properly graded AU55 with original surfaces is extremely rare and it would represent excellent value at anything near the current PCGS Price Guide of $16,500.
9. 1870-S Eagle
This is a much overlooked issue with fewer than 100 known from the mintage of 8,000. For some reason, t seems that virtually every 1870-S I have seen in AU grades has been cleaned and/or has been unappealingly recolored. When you couple this was the fact that all 1870-S gold coinage was roughly handled, you get an issue which almost never comes nice. The Bass/Eliasberg PCGS MS61 brought $36,800 back in 2000 and it appears to have never resurfaced.
10. 1882-S Eagle
I hesitated to include this date as there is always the possibility that a bag of 1882-S eagles is waiting to be found in a Swiss bank. But this is a date that while comparatively available in MS60 to MS63 is almost always excessively abraded and has somewhat impaired luster as a result. The 1882-S is very rare above MS63 and even if a bag exists, it is doubtful that many (if any) will be Gems.
11. 1858-S Double Eagle
The 1858-S is one of the few Type One San Francisco double eagles whose rarity profile wasn’t greatly altered by the shipwreck discoveries of the 1990’s and 2000’s. It remains a rare coin in Uncirculated with virtually all of the known pieces in the MS60 to MS61 range. In fact, the unquestioned finest known—graded MS63 by PCGS—and now in the Hansen Collection is the best I’ve seen by two full points. In AU55 and AU58, the 1858-S is sometimes available with good eye appeal but much less often than the 1859-S through 1861-S double eagles.
12. 1887-S Double Eagle
I’ve been a big advocate of the 1887-S double eagle for many years and have watched its price level soar. Decent looking MS61 and MS62 examples have become more available due to finds in Europe but this date remains nearly impossible to locate above MS63. The best I have handled is the Pittman I: 1157 coin which I bought raw in 1997 for $7,700 and later sold it for a nice profit after it graded MS64 at PCGS.
Do you have any favorite dates which in your experience “don’t come nice?” Let’s hear from you in the “comments” section or feel free to email me to discuss your observations at firstname.lastname@example.org.