was recently working on a research project involving No Motto Liberty Head eagles and I was amazed at just how rare most of these coins are, especially in higher grades. Even the “common” dates like the 1847, 1849 and 1853 still have relatively low surviving populations in the higher AU grades and in Mint State. But there were a few dates that really stood out. One of my favorite No Motto eagles has always been the 1839 Head of 1840. There were two varieties of eagles produced in 1839. The first—and more common—has the same type of head as that seen on the popular 1838 eagles. The rarer shows the same style of Liberty head as seen on eagles produced in 1840. Unlike with the 1839 Head of 1838, there do not seem to have been many 1839 Head of 1840 eagles saved. I doubt if more than four or five dozen examples are known and most of these grade EF40 or lower. The finest known example of this issue is the Pittman II: 1912 coin which is now in an NGC MS64 holder. One other Uncirculated piece is known: a PCGS MS62 which is probably from the 1976 ANA sale and earlier from the Charles Jay collection sold by Stack’s in the 1960’s.
Another date that always been a favorite “sleeper” of mine is the 1843. With an original mintage figure of 75,462 you would think this date would be common but it isn’t. I would estimate that 175-225 pieces are known but the vast majority are in circulated grades and this date becomes really hard to find in AU55 to AU58. But where this date is truly rare is in Uncirculated grades. Both PCGS and NGC have just graded one example in Uncirculated and both of these coins are in MS61 holders. The PCGS MS61 was last sold by Superior as Lot 414 in their April 2003 sale where it realized $15,525. Imagine what this coin would have brought if it were struck at the New Orleans mint or, better yet, at Carson City!
A date that gets virtually no recognition but which is rare in all grades is the 1855-S. With an original mintage figure of 9,000 you’ve got to figure this issue is rare and the combined number graded at PCGS and NGC is just 73 coins. My best estimate is that 60-80 examples are known but at least 80% of these are in EF45 and lower grades. In AU the 1855-S is a major rarity and I have never personally seen an example that graded better than AU53 to AU55. Despite this fact, you can buy a nice EF45 example for around $3,000 and an AU50 will run in the $5,000-7,000 range. No, it’s not a popular coin and yes I realize it’s an S Mint $10 but, man, that seems like a lot of coin for the money.
Speaking of rare but unsalable San Francisco eagles, how about the 1860-S? Until the recent discovery of two Uncirculated pieces in the S.S. Republic treasure, this date was unknown in Mint State and I had never seen one better than AU55. It’s still a majority rarity in all grades with an estimated total population of 25-35 pieces. If San Francisco gold coinage ever gets the recognition it deserves, a coin like this will be considered a stopper in the eagle series.
What is the rarest No Motto Liberty Head eagle? I would have to say that the unquestioned rarity of this type is the 1864-S. Until an example was sold at auction in the Summer of 2006, I think at least three to five years had passed since an example was offered for sale. (I know for a fact that the best collection of Liberty Head eagles assembled in recent history was missing this date until recently). Only 2,500 examples of the 1864-S eagle were struck and I’d be very surprised if more than 20-25 are known. What is very interesting about this date, though, is the fact that it has been offered for sale so infrequently in recent years. One has to wonder if someone hasn’t quietly put together a small hoard of pieces and has kept these off the market.
If your budget can handle coins in the $2,500-20,000 range I’d give the No Motto Liberty Head eagle series some serious consideration. It’s a completable set but one which is very challenging and lots of fun to collect.