In the Heritage February 2018 sale of the Admiral Collection, the star attraction was a nice NGC AU50 example of the 1875 eagle. I purchased this coin for $372,000 which is an all-time auction record for this issue. In my opinion, the 1875 eagle is still undervalued when compared to other classic rarities which were produced as business strikes. I’d like to build a case for the 1875 by comparing it to a few other issues which currently sell for similar values—or more.
But first, a few sentences about the 1875 eagle. This coin has the lowest mintage figure of any Liberty Head eagle with just 100 made for circulation. There are likely as few as seven to nine pieces and this includes one very low grade piece (VG10) and one which is impounded in the Smithsonian. I am aware of four which grade AU and the best of these is a PCGS AU53+. The Admiral coin was the second best I have seen and it was notable for its originality and overall lack of detracting marks. The 1875 is—by far—the rarest Liberty Head eagle and its rarity is not fully realized outside of the specialist community.
Now, on to the comparisons.
1. 1849-C Open Wreath Gold Dollar
There are exactly five known examples of this variety and given that none have turned up in decades, it is likely that no more exist. The 1849-C OW is clearly rarer than the 1875 eagle and it is a legitimate issue, made for circulation.
There are a few important factors working against this issue. The first is that it is technically a variety and since there are Closed Wreath 1849-C gold dollars, a viable (and much less expensive) alternative exists for gold dollar collectors. The second is this coin’s size. It takes a pretty big leap of faith to spend a mid-six figure sum on such a small coin. The third is the relative unpopularity of Gold Dollars, especially in comparison to ten dollar denomination.
There is a private treaty sale for the finest known 1849-C Open Wreath gold dollar (a PCGS MS62, formerly graded MS63 by NGC) at close to $1 million, and three auction records for the same coin at $690,000 (2004), $493,500 (2015), and $528,750 (2016). In 2010, another example, this one graded EF45 by NGC, brought $218,500.
If we assume that an EF 1849-C Open Wreath is worth $200,000-250,000 and that an AU is worth $300,000-400,000+, I’d say that a Condition Census AU50 1875 eagle is well undervalued.
2. 1854-S Quarter Eagle
After years of neglect, the 1854-S was recognized as a Classic American Rarity about a dozen years ago; more specifically when I bought the Lee Family example (graded EF45 by NGC) for $253,000 in September 2005. Since then prices have been very strong and this is best exemplified by a Good 6 selling for $193,875 in March 2014; I had sold the exact same coin 15 years ago for $35,000.
There are around a dozen 1854-S quarter eagles known from an original mintage of 246, so this issue is not as rare as the 1875 eagle and there is always the chance that one could turn up on the SS Central America. As with the 1875 eagle, the 1854-S quarter eagle is always seen in lower grades with the finest known grading PCGS AU50 and another three or four grading Extremely Fine.
If I were to ask a sophisticated gold coin collector if he would rather own an 1854-S quarter eagle or an 1875 eagle, I think the responses would be a 50/50 split. But the 1854-S is currently valued well higher. I’m guessing an EF would bring at least $350,000-400,000 (and likely more) while the PCGS AU50 would likely sell well north of the $500,000 mark. Given these estimates, I’d have to figure that the 1875 eagle is still undervalued.
3. 1854-O and 1856-O Double Eagles
With an estimated 30-40 known, each of these dates are considerably less rare than the 1875 eagle. And given that the original mintages are 3,250 and 2,250 respectively, it is realistic to assume that a few more examples exist “in the wild.”
Few Liberty Head gold coins saw the prices appreciation of these two double eagles in the 2000-2008 bull market. As an example, an NGC EF45 1854-O sold for $46,000 in the Heritage 1999 FUN Sale. In the July 2005 Bowers and Merena sale, a PCGS EF40 realized $241,500. Nice AU examples of these two dates routinely sold for $400,000-500,000 in the 2008-2014 Type One double eagle bull market.
These two issues offer an interesting comparison to the far rarer but less heralded 1875 eagle. Until a year or so ago, this denomination ruled the upper end of Liberty gold collectors. But I have sensed a shift in popularity away from double eagles towards eagles. While most collectors would probably still want a nice 1854-O or 1856-O double eagle over an 1875 eagle, I don’t think the popularity levels are so cut and dry anymore.
There are other Classic Rarities I considered as comparisons to the 1875 eagle. These include the 1841 quarter eagle, the 1863 quarter eagle, the 1875 three dollar, the 1907 Rolled Edge eagle, the 1870-CC double eagle, and the Proof-only 1883, 1884, and 1887 double eagles but I was limited by both time and blog length.
Suffice to say, I strongly believe that the 1875 eagle has the potential to one day be mentioned in the company of such exalted rarities as the 1894-S Dime, 1876-CC Twenty Cents, and the 1827 Original Quarter.