The true test of popularity for a series is when collectors begin to focus on varieties within the series rather than just dates. Some series, like Capped Bust half dollars, are actually more avidly collected by variety than they are by date. As a rule, gold coins are collected by date, not variety. This is due to the fact of the high entry cost per coin for most gold issues and the fact that many series of gold coins do not have interesting varieties. Even though Type One Liberty Head double eagles are an expensive type with a number of very rare and/or expensive individual issues, there are a decent number of individuals who have begun to either specialize in varieties or who have decided to add certain varieties to their date collections.
What are the major varieties of Type One Liberty Head double eagle? How rare are they and how significant are they? In this article, I'm going to focus on the varieties that I think should be included in any collection of Type Ones and offer my insights into them.
1852/1852: The 1852 is among the most common issues in the entire Type One series with a mintage of over 2 million coins. There are a few minor varieties and one obvious one: the Repunched Date. On this variety, the date was first punched too high and all four of the digits are doubled at the top. What makes this variety fairly easy to recognize even with the naked eye is the fact that this doubling has made the date quite heavy.
I would say that around one out of every 25-50 1852 double eagles that I see is the 1852/1852. It is obvious enough that it can be seen on comparatively low grade coins. I regard it as being very collectible and it seems to have a current premium of around 25-50% above a common date in circulated grades; in Uncirculated it is very rare.
Most of the 1852/1852 double eagles that I have seen grade in the EF45-AU53 range. This variety is very scarce in properly graded AU55 and rare in AU58. It is very rare in Uncirculated with probably fewer than ten known; the best I have seen are a pair of MS61's.
Both NGC and PCGS recognize this variety. The population statistics at both services are very low due to it having been recognized for a comparatively brief amount of time.
Catalog Numbers: Breen 7152, FS-301
Collectability: **** (four stars out of 5)
1853/2: There are numerous interesting varieties seen on the 1853 double eagle. This include varieties with a repunched 1, a repunched 3 and a blundered date with traces of an erroneous 3 between the 53 . But the variety that is the best known and which is the most sought-after by collectors is the 1853/2 overdate.
In my opinion, this is a controversial variety. Both PCGS and NGC recognize it but designate it as an 1853/'2' which shows that they are not totally convinxced it is an true overdate. In my opinion, its status remains debatable. The two lines in the lower loop of the 3, ostensibly from an effaced 2, don't convincingly match the former digit. Also, the major diagnostic of this variety, a dot below the R in LIBERTY, is sometimes seen on normal date 1853 double eagles with absolutely no trace of the supposed overdate.
Whatever the true status of this variety is, it has been collected along with the regular issues since the 1970's and high grade examples have commanded strong prices since the late 1980's/early 1990's. The current price record for this variety is $48,875 for a PCGS MS61 that was sold by Heritage in their 2005 ANA auction.
The 1853/2 double eagle is probably overvalued in comparison to the other varieties on this list. It is interesting to note that its price levels did not drop after both NGC and PCGS changed its designation to 1853/'2' a few years ago. My thought at the time was that it would hurt this variety's creditability given the fact that the services were basically implying that they doubted its veracity.
Catalog Numbers: Breen 7162, FS-301 (previously FS-008)
Collectability: ***1/2* (three and a half stars out of five)
1854/184 Repunched Small Date: The 1854 double eagle is seen with a Small Date and a Large Date (for more information on this variety, see below). The Small Date is the more common of the two but there is an interesting repunched date variety that is beginning to gain traction with Type One double eagle collectors. On this variety, the tops of the 1 and the 54 are noticeably repunched at their tops while the 8 is not. On early die state examples of this variety, the repunching can be seen with the naked eye.
When compared with the 1852 Repunched Date, the 1854/154 seems to be the scarcer of the two, especially in higher grades. It is seen most often in the EF40-AU50 range and it is rare in AU55 and above. I have seen just a few Uncirculated examples of which the best was a single NGC MS61. Others probably exist in Uncirculated but these have not yet been designated by NGC. PCGS does not recognize this variety (yet) while NGC does.
This is a good variety for the sharp-eyed collector to try and cherrypick. It is hard to figure out accurate values for lower grade coins but examples in AU50 and above already command premiums over normal Small Dates and I would expect this premium to increase as this variety becomes better known.
Catalog Numbers: Breen 7167, FS VP-001
Collectability: *** (three stars out of five)
1854 Large Date: No variety of Type One double eagle has increasded in popularity or price more in the last decade than the 1854 Large Date. After being more or less unknown for decades, this variety went on collector's radar screens in the 1980's and since the early 1990's it has at least doubled--if not tripled--in value.
The Large Date used a silver dollar logotype and it is appreciably bigger than the more often-seen Small Date. My guess is that it is at least six to eight times more scarce than the Large date. As recently as five years ago, I was still able to find undesignated Large Date coins in third-party holders (or raw) but at this point, it has become extremely hard (and lucrative!) to cherrypick examples. This variety is seen most often in EF45 to AU53 grades. It is very scarce in AU55 and rare in properly graded AU58. Interestingly, the few nice AU's I have seen have a "Euro" appearance and likely were found overseas. The finest known is an NGC MS64 that was last sold as B+M 9/08: 831 where it brought a record $96,600.
The 1854 Large Date is designated by both PCGS and NGC. The population figures at both services are misleading as this has only been attributed for a few years. This is especially true at PCGS where the variety is newer than at NGC.
The 1854 Large Date is widely accepted and it is an integral part of the Type One set. While I do not think it will continue to show the rise in value that it has seen over the last decade to decade and a half, I d feel that it is a savvy purchase for the advanced collector, particularly in AU50 and above.
Catalog Numbers: Breen 7168
Collectability: ***** (five stars out of five)
1856-S and 1857-S Varieties: After the discovery of the S.S. Central America, a number of varieties were discovered for the 1856-S and 1857-S double eagles. These are mostly positional and are very minor in nature. The SSCA coins that are designated by PCGS do not sell for any premium over other 1856-S and 1857-S double eagles from this source.
There are a few varieties, though, that are worth a short mention.
The 1856-S is known with a sharply double punched 56 in the date (Breen 7184) that can be seen with light magnification. In my experience, this is a scarce variety in higher grades but it has little collector premium.
The 1857-S is known with a Medium S mintmark and a Large S mintmark. Before the discovery of the SSCA hoard, the Large S was considered to be very rare in higher grades but it is now available. Ironically, PCGS does not use this designation and instead focused on very minor varieties such as the "spiked shield," etc.
Catalog Numbers: 1856-S Repunched 56 (Breen 7184), 1857-S Medium S (Breen 7187), 1857-S Large S (Breen 7189).
Collectability: ** (two stars out of five)
1859-S Double Die Obverse: This variety shows clear doubling on the BERTY in LIBERTY. This doubling is mostly on the lower portions of the letters and it is farily easy to see with light magnification.
I remember having an interesting "debate" with a very savvy double eagle collector a few years ago about this variety. He claimed it was reasonably common while I believed it was very scarce to rare. Sine then, I have examined close to 100 examples of this date and have not seen more than four or five of the Double Liberty variety. This may be because other people are looking for them as well but it is my belief that this is a very hard coin to find.
NGC recognizes this variety (and has for a few years) while PCGS only just started recognizing it. This means that at both services the number graded are unrealistically low and collectors shouldn't think that this variety has the same level of rarity as an issue like the 1854-O or the 1856-O.
The 1859-S Double Die Obverse (also known as the Double Liberty) is seen most often in the EF40 to AU50 range. It is rare in AU55 and very rare in AU58. I have only seen two or three in Uncirculated and none better than MS61. NGC has graded just a single coin in Uncirculated (an MS60) which I sold to a specialist collector around three or four years ago.
My guess is that this variety will become a key addition to the Type One set as the years go forward. Once it is better recognized and people are certain what sort of premium they must pay for it, its popularity will increase.
Catalog Numbers: Breen 7199, FS-101.
Collectability: *** (three stars out of five)
1861-S Paquet Reverse: Early in the life of the Type One design, it was determined that it was hard to strike and it did not always wear properly. Nothing was done about this until 1859-1860 when the assistant Mint Engraver Anthony Paquet produced a new reverse with tall, narrow letters. Coins were produced early in 1861 at the Philadelphia mint but it was quickly determined that this design was faulty due to the fact that the inner border was too narrow which allowed the surfaces to easily abrade. Coinage at Philadelphia was quickly stopped but by the time this information reached the San Francisco mint, close to 20,000 1861-S double eagles with the Paquet Reverse had been produced.
The 1861-S Paquet reverse was mostly unknown until the early 1950's when examples were found in Europe. Today there an estimated 100-125 known with most in the EF40 to AU50 range. The best that I have seen are two or three that I grade AU58; most of the coins in AU55 and AU58 holders, in my opinion, are overgraded. The current auction record is $184,000 for an NGC AU58 sold as Lot 5039 in Heritage's 1/12 auction. I know of at least two that have sold for over $200,000 via private treaty.
Values for this issue increased dramatically during the late 1990's and early 2000's; to the point where the average quality example was probably overvalued. In 2012, I see very few offered for sale and I believe that a nice AU is worth at least what it was during the strong mafrket of 2007-2008, if not even more.
The 1861-S Paquet reverse double eagle has been accepted as an integral member of the Type One set since the early 1960's and it will continue to be a highly prized issue. It is the rarest double eagle of any date or type from the San Francisco mint and I expect that the current low range of $40,000-50,000 for a presentable example is coming to an end. In the not-so-distant future, expect to pay in the $60,000-80,000+ range for the "right" coin.
Catalog Numbers: Breen 7205, Breen 7206
Collectability: ***** (five stars out of five)
1863-S Mintmark Varieties: Other than a minor date repunching variety on the 1862-S, there aren't many other post-Paquet varieties in the Type One series worth a mention. Probably the most interesting are the two mintmark varieties seen on the 1863-S.
The more common 1863-S double eagle has a Medium mintmark, as on the reverse used in both 1861 and 1862. The more common has a Small mintmark, as seen on the 1864-S and 1865-S reverses.
While somewhat interesting, I doubt if minor varieties such as these will ever catch on with Type One double eagle collectors.
Catalog Numbers: Breen 7126 (Medium S), Breen 7127 (Small S)
Collectability: * (one star out of five)
I expect the varieties listed above that are four stars or higher to have significantly increased demand over the next decade. I don't expect any other varieties to have such widespread appeal but you never know; the blessing of PCGS or NGC would go a long way in creating collector demand.
For more information about Liberty Head double eagles, please feel free to contact me directly ar firstname.lastname@example.org.