The Philadelphia Gold Coinage of 1870

The 1873 and 1875 gold issues from this mint have received considerable fanfare over the years but I think the Philadelphia gold coinage from 1870 is pretty interesting as well. Having recently sold a number of high quality 1870 Philadelphia gold pieces, I thought it would be interesting to present an in-depth study of these, going from the dollar all the way up to the double eagle. Gold Dollars: A total of 6,300 business strikes were produced along with 35 Proofs. This is a reasonably common date in most grades with an estimated 250-300 known. Probably half of (if not more) are in Uncirculated grades and the 1870 gold dollar is almost never seen below About Uncirculated grades, indicating that it did not circulate widely. There are at least two dozen Gems known and a few incredible Superb Gems including a PCGS MS68 and a group of four to six MS67’s. The finest known is Heritage 3/06: 1714 ($18,400), ex Superior 2/05: 3424 ($14,375), Superior 11/03: 1166 ($15,525). Some of the PCGS MS67 pieces include Bass II: 175 and Childs: 567.

The 1870 gold dollar is typically a well produced issue with attractive color and rich soft frosty luster. The natural coloration tends to a medium to deep golden hue. Many are a bit softly struck at the centers and the 87 in the date may not be fully formed.

This is an affordable issue that is good value with decent quality Uncirculated pieces still available for around $1,000. Gems trade in the $4,000-5,000 range and seem like good value.

Proof 1870 gold dollars are extremely rare and much undervalued. Of the 35 struck there are probably no more than ten to twelve known including a few impaired examples. Since 2000 there have been only five auction records and this includes one duplication (the Pittman coin) and an impaired example (ex Bass IV: 75).

Quarter Eagles: There were 4,520 business strikes produced along with 35 Proofs. This issue is a bit more available in terms of overall rarity than one might expect with an estimated 100-125 known. Most 1870 quarter eagles are seen in the EF45 to AU55 range. Unlike the gold dollar from this year, there are only a handful known in Uncirculated; maybe five to seven at most. The undisputed finest is Bass II: 568 (later sold as Goldberg 2/03: 1924) which is a lovely PCGS MS65. None of the other Uncirculated coins grades higher than MS62.

This tends to be a well-made issue that has luster than ranges from frosty to prooflike. Most are very heavily abraded and I have not seen more than a handful with natural coloration.

Nice AU 1870 quarter eagles remain affordable and undervalued with examples trading in the $1,000-1,500 range. The few decent quality Uncirculated pieces I have seen have brought in the $3,000-5,000 which seems like extremely good value for such a scarce coin.

Proof 1870 quarter eagles are extremely rare. While the mintage is a reported 35, I believe that many were melted and today as few as seven to nine exist. Only two have been auctioned since 1996 and the finest that I have seen is Bass III: 224, graded PR65 by PCGS.

Three Dollars: There were 3,500 business strikes made as well as an additional 35 Proofs. An estimated 150-200 are known with most in the EF45 to AU55 range. In Uncirculated there are around two dozen known. There are no Gems and just two or three properly graded MS64’s. The finest that I have seen is ex Bass II: 685 and this PCGS MS64 sold for $16,100 in 1999. A decade later (in March 2009 to be exact), an NGC MS64 brought $18,400 in a Heritage auction.

The typical 1870 three dollar gold piece business strike is semi-prooflike and there are some that are so fully prooflike that that can resemble Proofs. Business strikes always show die striae in the fields and some have clashmarks at the centers. The natural coloration is a medium orange-gold and undipped pieces tend to show coppery hues towards the borders.

This is another affordable issue. A nice quality About Uncirculated 1870 Three Dollar gold piece will run in the area of $2,500-4,000 while presentable lower grade Mint State pieces run around $5,000 to 9,000.

Proofs are extremely rare. There are an estimated dozen known and only four auction appearances have occurred since 2000. Nearly every known Proof is in the PR63 to PR64 range and Gems are exceedingly rare with perhaps one or two accounted for.

Half Eagles: The mintage for business strike half eagles from 1870 is just 4,000 while an additional 35 Proofs were produced. I believe that there are 65-75 known with most in the EF40 to AU50 range. Properly graded AU coins are extremely scarce with twelve to eighteen accounted for and there is just a single Uncirculated 1870 half eagle, ex Bass II: 1169 (graded MS61 by PCGS) where it sold for a reasonable $14,375 back in 1999.

The luster on 1870 half eagles tends to be satiny but it also tends to be impaired due to heavily abraded surfaces. Most examples have been cleaned or dipped at one time and original pieces with nice color and surfaces are very rare.

Prices for this date remain very reasonable, given its scarcity. An Extremely Fine piece will cost in the $1,500-2,000 range while AU’s run in the $3,500-7,000 range depending on the quality.

Proof 1870 half eagles are extremely rare and it is likely that a number of the 35 struck were melted later in the year after they went unsold. Based on the fact that only four auction appearances have been recorded since 2000 (one of which is a duplicate), I would not be surprised if only seven or eight are known. The finest known by a large margin is the wonderful NGC PR66Cam that is ex Goldberg 5/08: 4437 ($92,000) and Goldberg 2/07: 2325.

Eagles: The mintage for 1870 eagles is 3,990 business strikes along with another 35 Proofs. The certified population figures for this date are higher than one would expect with a total of 147 graded between the two services as of December 2009. However, I believe that this is the product of numerous resubmissions and the actual number of 1870 eagles known is fewer than 100. The typical example grades in the EF40 to AU50 range and choice, properly graded pieces in AU55 to AU58 are extremely scarce. I do not know of a single Uncirculated 1870 eagle although NGC has graded a solitary coin in MS60.

This date is typically seen with very heavily abraded semi-prooflike surfaces. It is probably the most difficult gold denomination from this year and mint to locate with good eye appeal. I can’t recall having seen more than a very small number of 1870 eagles which had good overall eye appeal and attractive natural coloration.

Lower grade 1870 eagles are very reasonably priced and the last Extremely Fine I had brought in the area of $1,500. AU pieces range from $2,000 to close to $10,000 based on quality.

Proofs are exceedingly rare. As with the other denominations of this year, it seems likely that a number were melted. Today it is likely that as few as seven or eight are known and only three have sold at auction since 2000. PCGS has graded just one Proof 1870 eagle (a PR64) while NGC shows five including two each in PR65 Cameo and PR65 Ultra Cameo.

Double Eagles: The mintage figure for business strike 1870 double eagles is considerably more than for all the other denominations from this date and mint combined. There were 155,150 business strikes made along with another 35 Proofs. This date is much scarcer than generally believed and it is likely that only 400-500 business strikes are known with most in the EF45 to AU55 range. Uncirculated pieces are scarce and I believe around three dozen exist with nearly all grading MS60 to MS61. Properly graded MS62 examples are rare and there are no pieces currently graded higher than MS63. The best I have personally seen is Heritage 1/07: 3718, graded MS63 by PCGS, which sold for a record $48,875. There are five graded MS63 between the two services including two at PCGS and three at NGC.

The vast majority of business strike 1870 double eagles have very heavily abraded surfaces and show a moderate amount of frosty luster. The few higher grade pieces known tend to exhibit rich frosty luster and nice orange-gold coloration. The strike is better than average for a Type Two issue of this era with some definition noted on the hair strands and shaper radial lines than on the 1868 or 1869 double eagles.

A decent quality Extremely Fine 1870 double eagle remains reasonably priced at around $2,000 while a nicer AU coin will set you back $3,000 to $5,000+.

Proofs are extremely rare although there appear to be more around than the eagles of this date. An estimated ten to twelve are known including a few very nice survivors. The finest known is the incredible Stack’s 1/09: 1410 that sold for $368,000 in a PCGS PR66 holder. This coin now appears to be graded PR67 Ultra Cameo by NGC and it is one of the very finest Proof Type Two double eagles of any date.

The Philadelphia gold coinage of 1870 is scarce and interesting but unlike other dates from this era, the set is completable and not expensive in medium grades. In fact, the collector of average means can put together a very nice set of these issues in Extremely Fine to About Uncirculated grades for well under $20,000.