In the third part of this series, we look at the gold coinage of 1864. This was, of course, a pivotal year in the war's outcome as well as a very interesting year in the history of American gold coinage. Mintage figures were mostly very low and a number of rare, undervalued coins are known. From a personal standpoint, this is the most interesting year of Civil War numismatics and I still get very excited when I handle a high quality gold coin dated 1864.
1864 Gold Dollar: A total of 5,900 business strikes were produced along with 50 Proofs. The grade distribution of this date is odd, to say the least. The 1864 dollar is not often seen in circulated grades and almost never below AU55. It is seen with some frequency in MS61 to MS63 but, surprisingly, high quality Uncirculated pieces exist in enough quantity to suggest that a hoard existed at one time. There are a few exceptional coins known including four or five in MS68 and a PCGS MS69, ex Superior 2/05: 3402 at $77,000, which is the finest Civil War era gold coins I have ever seen. This issue is known for nice frosty luster and high grade coins show pleasing rose and orange-gold color. Most examples are extensively clashed. The advanced collector of Civil War gold coins should be able to find a really nice 1864 dollar for his set with an MS66 or MS67 not out of the question.
1864 Quarter Eagle: As most collectors realize, the quarter eagle denomination was an afterthought at the Philadelphia mint from 1863 to 1865. After a Proof-only emission of just 30 coins in 1863, the mintage for 1864 was 2,824 business strikes plus another fifty Proofs. The 1864 is among the rarest quarter eagles ever produced with an estimated twenty or so known in all grades. As with most of the Philadelphia gold issues from this era, the 1864 quarter eagle didn't see enough circulation to be found in lower grades (unlike the lower denomination gold issues from San Francisco) so most survivors are in the EF45 to AU55 range. There are three known in Uncirculated: an NGC MS61, a PCGS MS61 and an NGC MS67 (ex Byron Reed collection and sold by Spink's in October 1996 for $132,000). This issue is a major rarity and will prove difficult to acquire in any grade. I recently sold a choice PCGS EF45 with CAC approval for $19,500; nice AU's are now bringing in the low to mid 40's.
1864 Three Dollars: Despite a low mintage of 2,630 business strikes (lower even than the quarter eagle of this year) the 1864 three dollar is only a moderately scarce issue. It is available in circulated grades and can be found in the lower Uncirculated range without much effort. It becomes scarce in properly graded MS63 and it is rare in MS64 and above. Gems are very rare. The finest that I have personally seen is the ANR 3/05: 627 coin, graded MS66 by PCGS, that sold for $36,800. This is a well-made issue with good luster and detail. Many examples show clashmarks in the fields as well as horizontal die finishing lines. For most Civil War collections, a nice MS63 to MS64 will suffice. Slabbed MS65's are extremely rare and many years might pass until one is offered.
1864 Half Eagle: By 1864, the supply of gold bullion available to the Philadelphia mint was extremely low due to hoarding brought on by economic uncertainty. This is evidenced by issues like the 1864 half eagle which had a mintage of 4,170 business strikes plus another 50 Proofs. There are around five dozen 1864 half eagles known with most in the EF40 to AU50 range. This is a rare issue in AU55 to AU58 and it is extremely rare in Uncirculated. I know of just two: the Heritage 9/07: 3436 ($18,975) ex Bass II: 1148 coin (graded MS61 by PCGS) and Milas: 529 (which sold for $14,300 bck in 1995) which was graded MS61 by NGC. This is a coin that is seldom seen with good eye appeal. Most have been cleaned and show impaired luster as a result. For most advanced collectors, an AU55 to AU58 is about the best that can be hoped for.
1864-S Half Eagle: Generally, Civil War gold coinage production was higher at the San Francisco mint than at Philadelphia due to more available bullion. This was not the case with the 1864-S half eagle (or eagle; see below) which saw just 3,888 struck. This is one of the great rarities of the entire Liberty Head half eagle series with an estimated twenty or so known. This issue also differs from many of the Philadelphia gold coins of this era in that few survivors exist over EF45. In fact, I can't account for more than three or four properly graded AU pieces. There is one sensational Gem known (graded MS65 by PCGS and better than this by today's standards) that is in a Southern collection and is ex Bass II: 1150 ($178,250) and Norweb I: 875 ($110,000). This is one of my absolute favorite United States gold coins of any date or denomination and a Civil War set that included this piece would truly be "one for the ages."
1864 Eagle: The 1864 eagle is slightly scarcer than the 1864 half eagle in terms of overall rarity (around fifty are known from the original mintage of 3,530 business strikes) but it is a rarer coin in high grades. Although a few have been graded MS61 by NGC, I have never seen one that I felt was better than AU55/58 and I feel that there are fewer than ten properly graded AU examples known. This is an extremely hard issue to find with good eye appeal as most are very abraded and show impaired luster from having been dipped and/or cleaned. Any 1864 with original color and surfaces is very rare. For most Civil War collectors, an AU50 to AU53 example is about the best coin that may be available. With patience and luck it might be possible to find an AU55.
1864-S Eagle: While the 1864 quarter eagle is probably rarer, the 1864-S eagle is the 1864-dated gold coin that most collectors would like to own. Of the 2,500 struck, it is likely that two dozen survive and this includes a number of very well worn or damaged examples. As rare as its half eagle counterpart is in higher grades, the 1864-S eagle is even rarer, I know of just two or three in AU and the best of these is ex Bass III: 656, graded AU55 by PCGS, that sold for $36,800 (it would bring four or five times this amount today, if not more...) The concept of eye appeal is irrelevant when it comes to this issue. Needless to say, any 1864-S with original color and surfaces is extremely rare and highly desirable. A Civil War gold set with the 1864-S eagle in EF would be impressive; a set with this issue in AU50 or higher would be a stunning accomplishment.
1864 Double Eagle: What little gold that was available to the Philadelphia mint in 1864 was used primarily to make double eagles and 204,235 were struck; nearly as many as in 1862 and 1863 combined. Compared to the other Philadelphia issues from 1864 that I have discussed above, the 1864-P double eagle is common. But this being a double eagle, it is far more popular and it must be considered in that context. The collector who is seeking a circulated 1864 double eagle should be able to locate a nice piece without having to spend much more than $5,000. Finding an Uncirculated example is another story as this issue remains rare in Uncirculated, despite the fact that a small number were found in the S.S. Republic treasure. The finest known is a wonderful PCGS MS65 that is ex Heritage 8/11: 7651 (as NGC MS64+) where it sold for a record-breaking $207,000.
1864-S Double Eagle: This is easily the most available gold coin dated 1864 as you would expect from its high mintage of 793,660. It is hard to state with certainty how many are known today but the actual number could be as high as 1,500-2,000 as examples are still being found in Europe. This date used to be exceedingly rare in Uncirculated but examples grading MS60 to MS63 were found in the S.S. Brother Jonathan shipwreck and then a smaller number of choice pieces were found in the S.S. Republic.. This second shipwreck s the source of the current highest graded 1864-S, an NGC MS65 that sold for a remarkable $115,000. This is an easy issue to find in nice AU grades and examples with original color and surfaces are still around. Non-seawater Uncirculated examples are very rare. For most Civil War collectors, a nice MS62 or MS63 "Bro Jo" would be a great choice for their set.
The gold coins dated 1864 contain some really rare issues (most notably the 1864-P quarter eagle and the 1864-S half eagle and eagle), but there are no "impossible" coins. As with all Civil War years, these coins are, for the most part, extremely rare in high grades. Ironically, some of the greatest individual Civil War coins are dated 1864: the Byron Reed 1864-P quarter eagle and the Bass/Norweb 1864-S half eagle are the two that come to mind.
In next month's fourth and final installment of this series, we will look at the gold coins dated 1865 and reach some final conclusions about collecting Civil War gold coins.
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