Since the publication of my book “The Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type 1 Double Eagles” in 2002, this has been one of the strongest and most avidly collected areas in the entire U.S. coin market. I think this is the case for three reasons:
1. Size: New collectors can relate to big, attractive coins and Type One double eagles are exactly the sort of coins that are easy for dealers to sell (and for collectors to buy).
2. Shipwrecks: The discovery of the S.S. Central America and S.S. Republic shipwrecks added a tremendous shot in the arm to this market. Many collectors were first attracted to Type One double eagles by the shipwreck coins but found the series interesting enough that they decided to collect more extensively.
3. Story: There is an incredible amount of history inherent in the Type One series. The 1850-1865 era is pivotal in the story of the United States and this has also attracted many collectors to the Type One series.
I am personally very attracted to the Philadelphia Type One issues. These issues do not get the publicity that the branch mint coins do and, as a result, they remain undervalued. Here is a date-by-date analysis for beginning collectors that, hopefully, will be useful.
1850: This issue is in heavy demand due to its status as a first-year-of-issue. I used to think it was undervalued but now I think it is fully priced, especially in the AU55 to MS62 range. There are as many as 3,000+ known with 50-100 in Uncirculated. There are actually two Gems graded MS65 and another half dozen or so that I grade MS63 to MS64. The current record price was set by Heritage 1/07: 3698, graded MS65 by NGC, which brought a healthy $161,000. Collectors should be patient when looking for an 1850 as there are some very pleasing pieces available.
1851: Over two million were struck but this date is a bit more difficult to locate than most people realize, especially in higher grades. There are an estimated 100-150 known in Uncirculated. I have never seen or heard of a Gem but have known of two or three that grade MS64. Most 1851 double eagles are grainy in appearance with very “choppy” surfaces. However, there are a number of frosty, lightly abraded coins known and the collector would do well to wait for such a piece to appear.
1852: The 1852 is similar in rarity to the 1851 except that it is a bit more available in Uncirculated. Nearly every known example is very heavily abraded and many have inferior grainy luster. Some lightly abraded, frosty pieces are known and I feel that these are desirable and worth a premium. There is a single example in MS65 (graded by NGC) but I have never seen an 1852 that I regarded as a Gem. I have, however, seen at least four or five very nice MS64’s. This date is an excellent choice for novice collectors as it tends to be well-made and affordable.
1853: The 1853 is similar in rarity to the 1851 and 1852 even though it has a lower mintage. I estimate that there are 1750-2250 known but most are in circulated grades and the 1853 is much scarcer in Uncirculated than the 1851 and 1852. I think there are around 30-40 known in Uncirculated and most are in the MS60 to MS62 range. The best I have seen is the NGC MS64 (which I now believe is in an MS65 holder) that was sold in the Superior 5/05 auction for $66,700.
There is also an 1853/2 overdate that is controversial but accepted as such by both PCGS and NGC. It is clearly identifiable by a small raised die dot below the R in LIBERTY. This variety is generally seen in EF and AU grades and from the standpoint of availability it is the rarest Philadelphia double eagle of this type. It is the second rarest in Uncirculated, trailing only the 1859. I am aware of less than a half dozen in Uncirculated and all are in the MS60 to MS62 range.
1854: The 1854 is not a really scarce date in lower grades but it remains scarce and undervalued in AU58 and above. There are an estimated 25-50 in Uncirculated including an MS64 and MS65 at PCGS. The record price for an 1854 is $96,600 which was set by Bowers and Merena 9/08: 831, graded MS64 by NGC. Finding examples with good luster and decent surfaces is very difficult as most are somewhat dull and very heavily abraded.
There are a number of interesting varieties for the year but the most widely collected is the 1854 Large Date. This issue is rare in all grades and it is very rare in Uncirculated. For more information about this variety, refer to the blog I wrote about Type One varieties dated March 30, 2009.
1855: I am a big fan of this date and it is an issue that I have always believed was rarer than its original mintage would suggest. There are around 1,000 known but just 15-20 qualify as Uncirculated. The best I have seen was a PCGS MS63 (later upgraded to MS64) that was ex: ANR 8/06: 1607. It brought $69,000 and was purchased by a well-known Midwestern collector. The 1855 is really hard to find with good eye appeal as most have been cleaned or dipped and exhibit severe abrasions. Pieces that show good luster, original color and minimal marks are very scarce and typically bring strong premiums over the usual “schlock” offered for sale.
1856: This is another sleeper date that I have been writing about for many years. There are an estimated 500-600+ known with most in the VF to EF range. Any 1856 double eagle that grades AU55 or better is very scarce and this date is quite rare in Uncirculated with just 15-25 accounted for. I have only seen one or two that I graded MS63 and another half dozen or so that I thought graded MS62. An auction record was set by Bowers and Merena 1/08: 584, an NGC MS63 example that was bid up to $27,600. Most 1856 double eagles are very heavily scuffed and the vast majority have unoriginal coloration. Finding an example with good eye appeal is quite a challenge and even though price levels have risen quite a bit for the 1856 in the last few years, I think nice pieces are still vastly underpriced.
1857: For many years, the 1857 was regarded as a common date and lumped with the 1851-1853 issues. We now know that this is not true and my best estimate is that only 900-1200+ are known. The 1857 is more available in higher grades than the 1855 and 1856 with as many as 30-50 known. I have seen two that grade MS64 and another two or three in MS63. Many 1857 double eagles show a below average strike and most have poor luster and very heavily bagmarked surfaces. It has become very hard to locate a piece with original color as well. In my opinion, the 1857 remains undervalued, especially in AU55 and higher grades.
1858: With a mintage figure that is less than half that of the 1857, one would expect the 1858 to be a much scarcer date. These two issues are similar in terms of overall rarity but the 1858 is scarcer in high grades. There are just twenty to thirty known in Uncirculated and I have never seen a piece that graded higher than MS63. Eye appeal is a real problem for the 1858 double eagle and the typical example is somewhat softly struck, subdued in appearance and heavily bagmarked. The price of this date in AU and above has risen in the last few years but I feel the 1858 double eagle is still an excellent value as it possible to purchase a very presentable example for less than $5,000.
1859: When my Type One book was published, I stated that the 1859 was the fourth rarest Type One double eagle from the Philadelphia mint. Because of the aforementioned shipwrecks and other hoards, I now think that the 1859 could well be the rarest Type One from this mint. And if it isn’t the rarest, it is certainly the hardest issue to locate with good eye appeal in higher grades. Virtually every 1859 double eagle I have seen is very heavily abraded and these marks are often in prime focal points such as the left obverse field or on the face of Liberty. While the strike tends to be good, the level of eye appeal is nearly always well below average. I believe that there are around 200-250 known including five to seven in Uncirculated. I have only seen one in MS62 and another three in MS61.
1860: The 1860 is a date that is actually a bit more available than one might expect considering its mintage of 577,670. There are an estimated 2,000 known including as many as 100 in Uncirculated. PCGS has graded one in MS65 and NGC graded the finest of the S.S. Republic coins MS65 as well. This is generally a well-produced year and there are still some examples around that have nice color and good luster. The 1860 tends to come with fewer bagmarks than some of the issues from the mid-to-late 1850’s and the collector should be able to find a pleasing piece if he is patient.
1861: Until the discovery of the S.S. Central America treasure, the 1861 was easily the most common Type One double eagle. Today, it is the second most available after the 1857-S. There are at least 4,000-5,000 known and the actual number could be even higher. This is an easy issue to locate in higher grades with coins in MS61, MS62 and even MS63 sometimes available. As such, it makes a good type coin for the collector who prefers a Type One double eagle that is not from a shipwreck. The finest known is an amazing PCGS MS67 that brought $181,500 all the way back in October 1989 when it was sold at auction. I still regard that coin as the single best business strike regular issue Type One double eagle that I have seen.
1862: For many years, the 1862 was a sleeper date that had attained virtual cult status among the small number of people who collected Type One double eagles. Today, its rarity is better known and its value has increased accordingly. I regard it, along with the 1859, as one of the two hardest Philadelphia issues of this type to find although it is more available in higher grades than its counterpart. This is another date for which eye appeal is a problem. Many 1862 double eagles have very heavily abraded surfaces and the luster is sometimes impaired as a result. There are around a dozen or so known in Uncirculated. This includes a solitary NGC MS64 and a combined four in MS63 between PCGS and NGC. The 1862 remains an extremely challenging issue to locate in all grades and it should prove to be one of the tougher holes to fill in any Type One set.
1863: Until the discovery of a number of higher grade examples in the S.S. Republic treasure, high grade examples of the 1863 were extremely rare. Today there are around three dozen known in Uncirculated including one in MS64 and four in MS63. The eye appeal of this date tends to be significantly better than that seen on the 1862. The 1863 is reasonably well struck and original examples show very nice coloration. Many have been cleaned at one time and I have seen more “no grade” examples of this date than nearly any other Type One double eagle from the Civil War era. The coins from the shipwreck have a very unique (and cosmetically appealing) appearance that makes them easy to distinguish from non-shipwreck coins. They tend to have somewhat grainy luster and lack the extensive marks found on most 1863 double eagles.
1864: There are many more 1864 double eagles known today than back when I produced my Type One book. The majority of the new high grade 1864’s are from the S.S. Republic shipwreck which contained at least seventeen Uncirculated examples. Most were in the MS60 to MS62 range and the 1864 remains extremely rare in MS63 or better. Non-shipwreck examples tend to be a bit scuffy in appearance and have frosty luster. From time to time, original pieces are offered for sale and they tend to show attractive deep green-gold or orange hues. In my opinion, the 1864 remains a scarce and undervalued date that does not receive the attention that the (now) better known 1862 and 1863 are showered with.
1865: Close to three hundred Uncirculated 1865 double eagles were found on the S.S. Republic. Obviously, the rarity profile of this date has changed dramatically in recent years and the 1865 has gone from being very rare in higher grade to reasonably common. Some of the coins from the shipwreck were quite spectacular and the best pieces include one in MS66 and no less than two dozen in MS65.
What exactly is it about the Philadelphia Type One issues that appeals most to me? I would have to say that it is value. Unlike smaller denomination coins from this era, there is enough demand for double eagles that there are not many absurdly undervalued issues. But that said, there are a number of Philadelphia double eagles from the 1850’s that can be obtained in decidedly above average condition (in most cases AU55 to AU58) for well under $5,000. I also like the fact that the Philadelphia issues are completable by the collector of average means (unlike the New Orleans coins of this era which have become the playground of wealthy collectors). If I were going to focus on Type Ones, I would work on a set of nicely-matched AU55 to AU58 coins with choice original color and surfaces.
For more information about Type One double eagles, please feel free to contact me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.