The combination of history and numismatic significance makes the United Sates gold coins struck during the Civil War era (1861 to 1865) a fascinating possible collecting area for the sophisticated numismatist. Let's take a look at each coin produced during this year and determine the most practical grade range for the collector.
1861 Gold Dollar. The 1861-P dollar is common in nearly all grades and can be found even in MS65. The finest known grade MS67 and there are as many as three to five known at that level. The best that I have personally seen is ex Heritage 2/10: 1420, graded MS67 by PCGS, that brought $19,550. This date typically comes with striated surfaces but it is well struck and well-produced with good luster and color. For most collectors, a nice MS64 to MS65 should be sufficient.
1861-D Gold Dollar. This is the most popular singular coin in the entire Civil War gold set due to its status as the only issue that is positively attributable to the Confederacy. An estimated 1500-2500 were struck and there are probably fewer than a hundred known today. This issue is typically seen in AU50 to MS60 grades and it is less rare in Uncirculated than commonly believed due to hoarding. As many as a dozen+ are known in Uncirculated including a few in the MS63 to MS64 range. The finest available in the last decade was Duke's Creek: 1493, graded MS65 by NGC, that sold for $138,000. This issue is always found with weakness on the U in UNITED and it has a unique appearance. For an advanced collector, I would suggest a nice MS62 to MS63 if available.
1861 Quarter Eagle. Over a quarter of a million were struck and this is a common issue which is well made and easy to find with good eye appeal. It is common through MS63, slightly scarce in MS64 and only marginally rare in Gem. The best I have seen are a small group of MS66 examples and even these are priced well below $10,000. There are two varieties: the old reverse (scarce) and the new reverse (common). For most collections of Civil War gold, I would include a nice MS64 or MS65 example of this issue.
1861 Three Dollars. Including Proofs, there a total of 6,072 examples produced. This is a scarce but not really rare date that is typically seen with lightly clashed dies and naturally striated planchets. The best I have seen is the Heritage 12/05: 30639 coin graded MS67 by Heritage which sold for $46,000. NGC has graded one coin an MS67 and it last sold for $47,000 in the Heritage 10/09 sale. The 1861 Three Dollar is typically seen in AU grades. It is slightly scarce in the lower Uncirculated grades, very scarce in MS63 and rare above this. For most collections of Civil War gold, I think a nice Uncirculated example would suffice. A Gem will be available with some patience at a cost of $20,000-30,000.
1861 Half Eagle: This is another common issue and it is by far the most available of the four half eagles produced in 1861. It is a well made coin that can be found with good luster and color and an oustanding strike. The best I have seen is Stack's 1/08" 949, graded MS66 by NGC, that sold for a record $52,900. There are probably around a dozen or so Gems and maybe two or three pieces that grade MS66. The current value for a nice MS64 is $10,000-12,000 while a Gem is at least double. Given the many expensive coins it takes to complete this set, I'd suggest going with an MS64 and saving your money for a true rarity.
1861-C Half Eagle: With only 6,879 minted you'd expect this to be a scarce coin and it is. But the 1861-C half eagle wasn't a really in-demand coin until recently. That said, this is still an affordable coin in EF grades and the collector can find a decent example in the $5,000-10,000 range. Most 1861-C half eagles are abraded and show poor quality surfaces. There are three or four known in Uncirculated with the finest being, by a large margin, the NGC MS63 sold as Heritage 1/00: 7769 at $59,800. I love the history and think it is an integral part of a comprehensive Civil War gold collection.
1861-D Half Eagle: I have discussed this issue comprehensively in other blogs and articles so I won't get too deeply into it here. I'd rather discuss, quickly, what the real value of this coin is right now in collector grades). Clearly, the price levels on the 1861-D (both the dollar and half eagle) have risen dramatically in recent years. I think a decent looking EF 1861-D half eagle is currently a $30,000+ coin and a nice AU is probably worth at least $50,000. Are these good values? That's hard to say and as someone who remembers buying nice AU's for $15,000 I may not be the best person to ask. But this is a critical coin in the Civil War set we are discussing here and the collector needs to be prepared to jump on the first good 1861-D half eagle he sees.
1861-S Half Eagle: This is a much scarcer issue than its mintage of 18,000 would suggest and it is actually rarer in high grades than the 1861-C or 1861-D. I am not aware of a single Uncirculated 1861-S half eagle and I have never seen one better than AU55 to AU58. The few nice ones I have seen seem to have been off the market since the 1990's (like the Milas coin) and today it is very hard to find one better than EF. Most 1861-S half eagles are weakly struck, well worn and have abraded surfaces. An AU50 or better with original color and surfaces would be a great addition to a Civil War gold set.
1861 Eagle: This is a common issue in nearly all circulated grades and it is not hard to find a decent looking AU coin with good luster and scattered abrasions. In Uncirculated, there are probably fewer than fifteen to twenty known with most in the MS60 to MS61 range. I recently sold a nice NGC MS61 for less than $7,000 so this isn't an expensive coin in the lower Uncirculated grades. The finest known is an amazing PCGS MS66 from the Bass IV sale that brought $50,600; today this is easily a six-figure coin. I'd suggest an MS61 to MS62 for the Civil War collector.
1861-S Eagle: The 1861-S eagle is more available than its half eagle counterpart both in terms of overall and high grade rarity. A single Uncirculated coin is known (ex Heritage 1/12: 4977 where it brought $54,625; it is graded MS61 by NGC) as well as three to five properly graded AU55 to AU58 coins. This issue is most often seen in EF40 to AU50 grades and it is typically bright and baggy. Well struck, naturally toned examples are very scarce and it will prove very hard to locate an example in AU55 for this Civil War gold coin set.
1861 Double Eagle: With nearly three million struck, the 1861 double eagle has the highest mintage of any coin in this set. It is readily available in circulated grades and not hard to find in the MS60 to MS62 range. It becomes scarce in properly graded MS63, rare in MS64 and very rare in MS65. The finest known is a mind-boggling PCGS MS67 that, as far as I know, has been off the market since the mid-1990's. There are maybe a dozen or so Gems known but for most collectors, the best value grade might be MS63 to MS64 with coins available, from time to time, in the $12,500-25,000 range depending on appearance and quality. This is a well produced issue that can be really spectacular in higher grades.
1861-O Double Eagle: This is another very historic issue and one that you read about in great depth in my book on New Orleans gold coinage. It is scarce in all grades but it is offered a few times per year at auction or through specialist dealers like myself in EF and low AU grades. I am aware of between four and six Uncirculated examples with the finest of these grading MS61 to MS62. This is a very, very hard coin to find with good eye appeal as most are not well struck and have been cleaned in the past few decades. Examples with natural color and choice surfaces are extremely scarce and command a strong premium over typical pieces. For a high quality Civil War set, I'd suggest an AU example and I would be hold put for as nice a piece as possible due to the importance of this issues. (NOTE: A second variety is known but it is not included in this article due to its extreme rarity. There are just two 1861 Paquet Reverse double eagles from Philadelphia currently known).
1861-S Double Eagle: There are two important varieties of San Francisco double eagle dated 1861. The more common of the two is the 1861-S with a normal reverse. This date is readily available in grades up to AU55 and scarce but obtainable in AU58. In Uncirculated, it is very scarce and it is very rare in MS62 or better. For most Civil War collectors, a nice MS60 to MS61 will suffice. The rarer variety is the 1861-S Paquet Reverse. There are a few hundred known, at most, and many have been found overseas since the 1970's. This issue is typically seen in EF40 to AU50 and properly graded AU55 examples with good color and surfaces are quite rare. I have seen one or twwo with claims to Uncirculated and the nicest to be sold in recent memory was Heritage 1/12: 5039, graded AU58 by NGC, that brought $184,000. This is a coin that I would stretch on if I were a Civil War collector due to its unique back story and appearance.
1861 Summary: This is a very interesting year in the annals of American gold coinage. You have coins struck this year that are very common (gold dollar, quarter eagle and double eagle), coins that are extremely rare (1861-P and 1861-S Paquet double eagles) and coins that are highly prized due to their historic connotations (1861-D dollar and half eagle, 1861-O double eagle).
1862 Gold Dollar: This issue has a huge mintage of 1.36 million and it is very common in grades up to MS64. It is only moderately scarce in MS65 and I have sold MS66 examples in the last year for between $3,500 and $4,000. The best I have seen are a small number of MS67 and these are only valued at $7,500 or so. This is an issue that comes well made with good luster and color. I suggest that the Civil War collector buy a nice MS65 or MS66.
1862 Quarter Eagle: For many years, the 1862-P quarter eagle was a "sleeper" and it was possible to buy a nice EF/AU coin for under $1,500. Prices shot up after an ill-advised promotion and now this issue is somewhat out-of-favor. It is relatively available in all circulated grades and there are around 15-20 known in Uncirculated. The best I have seen are a group of three or four in MS64; this includes two from the Bass collection. This date is found frosty or semi-prooflike and original coins can show very nice rich color. For most Civil War collections, a nice MS62 or MS63 will be a great addition but a properly graded MS64 at the right price (around $17,500-20,000) should merit strong consideration.
There is also an 1862/1 overdate known. I have always been a bit skeptical about this variety's status as a true overdate but it is recognized by both PCGS and NGC and always included in a date set of Liberty Head qurter eagles. It is scarce in all grades and very rare in Uncirculated. The best I have seen is a PCGS MS62 but I can't recall having ever handled an Uncirculated 1862/1 that I thought was choice. Nearly every example is bright from having been dipped and most are heavily abraded. It is possible to buy a nicer AU example in the $5,000 range and this is what I suggest for a Civil War set.
1862-S Quarter Eagle: Only 8,000 were struck and this overlooked issue is scarce in all grades with probably fewer than 100 known. There are three or four known in Uncirculated and the finest by a clear margin is Goldberg 2/12: 1217, graded MS63+ by PCGS, that I recently purchased for $43,700. The typical 1862-S quarter eagle grades EF and original examples tend to show nice deep orange-gold or lighter rose shadings. Abrasions tend to be a problem for this issue and most are marked in the fields. A world-class Civil War collection would contain one of the few known examples in Uncirculated.
1862 Three Dollars: The 1862 three dollar is scarcer than the 1861. It is an issue that is generally found in AU grades and lower end Uncirculated pieces aren't really scarce. This date becomes rare in properly graded MS63 to MS64 and Gems are very rare with maybe four to six known. The best I have seen are a pair graded MS66; this includes ANR 3/05: 625, encapsulated by PCGS, that sold for $36,800. Collectors should look for pieces with shimmering satiny luster and light clashmarks and avoid examples that are bright or over-abraded. For most Civil War collectors, an MS63 to MS65 will suffice.
1862 Half Eagle: Until recently, this was a nearly-forgotten issue but the 1862-P half eagle has suddenly becomes popular (and seemingly more available as well). Of the estimated 75-85 known, most are very heavily abraded and range from VF35 to EF45. This is a tough coin in the lower AU grades but not a really rare one until you reach AU55. There are two known in Uncirculated: a PCGS MS62 that is ex Goldberg 5/07: 1610 and a PCGS MS61 that is ex Bass II: 1140. I would suggest waiting for at least an AU55 to an AU58 for your Civil War set and I would hold out for a coin with choice, original surfaces if possible.
1862-S Half Eagle: While this is a very scarce coin, I think its rarity has been a bit overstated in the past few years. I think it is actually a bit more available than the 1862-P and, for some reason, it seems more available in AU grades than one might expect. That said, it is still a rare coin (probably just a dozen or so exist in AU) and most are low end coins with dipped, abraded surfaces. I know of two Uncirculated 1862-S half eagles: a PCGS MS62 (ex ANR 8/06: 1454, as PCGS MS61) and an NGC MS61 that was last sold as Heritage 11/07: 2047. A high quality Civil War set should aim for at least an AU55 to AU58.
1862 Eagle: As with its half eagle counterpart, this is a rare, undervalued date whose interest level has soared in the past two or three years. While 10,960 were produced, many were melted survivors tend to be in the EF40 to AU50 range. This issue is very scarce in AU grades although bagmarked AU55's are available from time to time. There are two known in Uncirculated. The finest, graded MS64 by NGC and pedigreed to the S.S. Republic shipwreck, sold for $41,975 as Lot 2004 in Bowers and Merena's 4/05 auction. The other is a PCGS MS62 from the Bass II sale (lot 681) that sold for a very reasonable $12,650. For most Civil War collectors, a nice AU55 to AU58 example will do the trick.
1862-S Eagle: This issue is probably the single rarest 1862 gold coin from any U.S. mint. It is seldom seen in any grade and when it is available, survivors are usually in very low grades. I believe that no more than five or six properly graded AU coins exist and most are in the AU50 to AU53 range. A single Uncirculated coin is known; it was recently sold as Heritage 4/11: 5427, where it brought a remarkable $103,500. It is graded MS61 by NGC and I have never seen another 1862-S even close to it in terms of quality. This will be an extremely hard coin for the specialist to find and I'd suggest that the Civil War collector aggressively pursue the chance to purchase any 1862-S eagle that grades AU50 or better.
1862 Double Eagle: The 1862 is the rarest Philadelphia double eagle made between 1850 and 1880. It is much scarcer than its original mintage figure of 92,133 would suggest and when it is available, it is likely to be found in the EF40 to AU50 range. It is very scarce in the higher AU grades and rare in all Uncirculated grades. The best I am aware of is an NGC MS64 now in a New England collection that is ex Heritage 11/05: 2459 (where it brought $62,100). This issue is well struck and typically has satiny luster but most are very heavily abraded. For a high quality Civil War set, any Uncirculated 1862 double eagle would be a great addition. You can count on spending at least $30,000 for one if it becomes available.
1862-S Double Eagle: Over 850,000 1862-S double eagles were made and this is by far the most available 1862-S gold coin of the four different denominations that were produced. It is typically seen in EF-AU grades and it is available even in AU55 to AU58 without much of a search. Virtually all examples show some weakness of strike at the centers and on the obverse stars and most are considerably abraded. There are shipwreck examples of this date available from both the S.S. Brother Jonathan and the S.S. Republic with a small number from the latter wrecking grading as high as MS62. The single best 1862-S double eagle that I have seen is ex Heritage 3/11: 4925. Graded MS63 by NGC, it brought $57,500. For most collectors, an MS61 to MS62 example of this issue will fit well into their set.
1862 Summary: There are fewer coins in the 1862 gold Civil War set than in the 1861 version and fewer great rarities. A few of the 1862 dated are common while most are scarce to rare. But none is unobtainable unless the collector has to have all Uncirculated coins; then some problems will ensue. All in all, this is a challenging but completable year for the Civil War set.
Some images appear courtesy of Heritage, with our thanks.