In the fourth and final part of this series about the gold coinage from the Civil War era, we now focus on 1865, the final year of the conflict. Viewed as a whole, 1865 is an interesting coinage year although there are not as many extreme rarities as in 1863 or 1864. That said, 1865 remains a challenging year for the collector of United States gold, as the following article will show.
1865 Gold Dollar: The 1865 is second only to the 1863 in terms of overall rarity in the Civil War gold dollar series. But it is more available in higher grades with a surprising number of Gem and Superb Gem examples known. The finest I have seen is a PCGS MS68 sold as Heritage 3/08: 1356 for $34,500. There are at least two or three others that grade MS67 and a decent number of MS66's. Original examples show good frosty luster and rich yellow and green-gold coloration. Most are struck from clashed dies yet are well detailed overall. This date is not often available in the more affordable collector grades and when a nice AU55-MS62 does come up for sale it brings well over current published price levels. For a high quality set, the grades to focus on are MS65 to MS66.
1865 Quarter Eagle: The final quarter eagle of the rare three year run from 1863 to 1865, this issue has an original mintage of only 1,520 plus 25 Proofs. It is not as rare as the 1864 quarter eagle but it is a very difficult coin to find with few than three dozen known in all grades. The 1865 is unique in Uncirculated with a single MS63 graded at PCGS. The next best available coins are a small group of AU58's, which are currently valued in the $20,000-25,000 range depending on quality. This is a nearly impossible coin to find with original color and surfaces and it is actually a bit more difficult to find with good eye appeal than the more acclaimed 1864. For a high quality Civil War set, finding a choice AU55 to AU58 would be an impressive accomplishment.
1865-S Quarter Eagle: Due to its relatively high mintage figure of 23,376 (and its relative availability in higher grades), the 1865-S quarter eagle is not a highly regarded issue. It is actually extremely rare in Uncirculated with just two or three known including a wonderful PCGS MS64 that sold for $20,700 as Bass IV: 218 in 2000. Most are seen in the EF45-AU55 range with a decent strike but scuffy surfaces and stripped color. Uncleaned examples are rare and tend to show soft frosty luster below rose and orange-gold hues. Most collectors will search for a choice AU58 for their sets but the more stalwart collectors of Civil War gold coinage might hold out for an Uncirculated example; a PCGS MS62 sold for less than $10,000 in a recent Stack's Bowers auction.
1865 Three Dollars: This low mintage date (just 1,140 business strikes made) is by far the scarcest Civil War era Three Dollar issue. Of the 100 or so known, most are in the AU55 to MS61 range. The finest I am aware of is ANR 5/05: 628, graded MS67* by NGC, which brought a record-setting $57,500. This is a well-produced coin that is generally better struck than the earlier Civil War dates and which lacks the vertical striations seen on many of these dates. The luster tends to be satiny or semi-prooflike and the natural coloration is often a rich orange-gold hue. For most Civil War collections, a coin in the MS62 to MS64 range will be the best fit.
1865 Half Eagle: The mintage for the 1865 half eagle is tiny with just 1,270 business strikes and another 25 Proofs. I have only seen one business strike example that I felt was Uncirculated (an NGC MS61 that was last sold as Lot 530 in Stack's Milas auction of 1995 for $18,700) and one or two properly graded AU58's. The NGC population figure of five in Uncirculated includes at least one Proof that has been mistakenly called a business strike and some duplicate submissions. Most 1865 half eagles are prooflike and heavily abraded. Pieces generally are seen in the EF45-AU55 range but seldom have good eye appeal and almost never show natural coloration. Despite this date's obvious rarity, it remains very undervalued with AU examples still selling below $10,000. For most Civil War collectors, a nice, properly graded AU55 to AU58 would be a good purchase for their set.
1865-S Half Eagle: This date is, by far, the most available San Francisco half eagle from the Civil War era. There were 27,612 struck and a few hundred are known with most showing a good degree of wear from use in local commerce. The typical example is an abraded EF40 to AU50. The finest known, by a large margin, is a PCGS MS64 from the S.S. Brother Johnathan which originally sold for $48,300 in May 1999; it has been sold twice at auction since then and was last offered as ANR 1/04: 480 where it brought $43,700. There are one or two others that have claims to Uncirculated but the 1865-S is very rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58. The few known with original color show nice rose and green-gold hues. This is a issue that should be obtainable in the medium About Uncirculated grades and such a coin, when available, will not be that expensive.
1865 Eagle: The mintage figure for this issue is 3,985 business strikes with an additional 25 Proofs made for collectors. There are an estimated 50-75 known in all grades with most showing a considerable amount of circulation. The 1865 eagle is unique in Uncirculated (a PCGS MS63 which I have never seen) and it is very rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58. Most seen are VF and EF coins with heavy abrasions and impaired reflective surfaces. This is a well-produced issue but it saw heavy circulation and, as a result, problem-free, original coins are extremely rare. In my opinion, this is a very undervalued date as presentable examples can still be obtained for under $10,000. For most collectors, an AU55 example of this issue would be an excellent addition to their Civil War set.
1865-S Normal Date Eagle: There are two varieties of 1865-S eagle known. The first, which has a Normal Date, is the rarer with an estimated three dozen or so known. The total mintage of this date is 16,700 and it is possible that around 5,000 to 7,000 were struck with the Normal Date obverse. This variety is usually seen with bright surfaces, multiple bagmarks and a sunken appearance which is especially prominent at the reverse center. I have never seen or heard of an Uncirculated 1865-S Normal Date eagle and am aware of just two or three with claims to the AU55 to AU58 range. While not an inexpensive coin, I think it is still undervalued given the fact that it is among the ten rarest issues in the entire Liberty Head eagle series. An advanced Civil War collection with a nice mid-to-high level AU will have a coin that is not likely to ever be improved.
1865-S Inverted Date Eagle: There are few United States gold coins with a higher "cool factor" than this variety. The 186 in the date was originally punched upside down and was then corrected. This can be seen with the naked eye and it is a variety that is not seen on more than a handful of other United States issues. While more available than its Normal Date counterpart in terms of overall rarity, the Inverted Date is rarer in high grades. It is extremely rare in AU with no more than three or four known and it is exceedingly rare in Uncirculated with exactly two known. The finest is a PCGS MS64 that is originally from the Brother Jonathan hoard. It sold for $115,000 in 1999 and when it was resold by Bowers and Merena in their 8/01 auction it brought only $81,650; the second finest is an NGC MS62 from the S.S. Republic that is now owned by a western specialist. This is an issue that is generally seen with a very flat strike at the centers and heavy wear which impairs the luster. Most are in the VF-EF range and have been dipped as well as showing excessive abrasions. A nice AU example of this fascinating variety would make a great addition to a Civil War set.
1865 Double Eagle: This is the second most available Civil War double eagle from this mint but it is still many times scarcer than the common 1861. The 1865 double eagle is reasonably easy to find in all circulated grades although nice AU55 to AU58 examples with choice surfaces and natural color are harder to find than their population at PCGS and NGC would suggest. Until the discovery of the S. S. Republic shipwreck, this date was unknown in the higher Uncirculated grades. This hoard included a number of MS64 and MS65 examples and there are currently (as of 6/12) 23 graded MS65 by NGC. These high grade 1865 double eagles are gorgeous coins with great luster and surfaces and they would make a great addition to a Civil War set. For collectors who are more inclined to own a coin with natural surfaces, the best available quality will be in the MS61 to MS62 range.
1865-S Double Eagle: Slightly over one million double eagles were struck at the San Francisco mint in 1865 and this is the most common single gold issue produced during this year. The 1865-S is easy to locate in all circulated grades and choice, original AU55 to AU58 examples are still available without a huge effort--or premium. This date was, at one time, very rare in Uncirculated but close to five hundred examples were located when the S.S. Brother Jonathan was salvaged. Today, it is possible to find an 1865-S in grades up to an including MS65. These coins typically show more of a matte-like surface than other shipwreck double eagles from this era but it is possible to find a nice, attractive coin with some patience. For most Civil War collectors an MS64 to MS65 example of the 1865-S double eagle with a shipwreck provenance will be a perfect coin for their collection.
So, there you have it: a four part guide to the Civil War era gold issues from the United States. This is clearly one of the most fascinating--and challenging--sets that a collector can tackle. Due to the rarity and high cost of many coins, the Civil War set is not for everyone. But for the collector with a deep pocketbook and a considerable amount of patience, I can think of few other sets that offer the potential rewards that this one does.
For more information regarding Civil War gold coins, please feel free to contact me via email at email@example.com.
Some of the images above appear courtesy of Heritage.