One of the most interesting varieties of United States gold coinage is the many overdated issues that exist. Some are very rare and others are common; some are well-known and some are very obscure. But all share a common trait: a high “coolness factor” that makes them desirable with collectors. What are overdates and how can the collector of United States gold coins focus on these issues? An “overdated” coin is one on which two dates are present. A famous example is the 1942/1 dime. An overdate occurs when one of more digits from the current year is punched into an older working die. Overdates are often intentional creations and they may exist for a number of reasons.
In the early years of the US Mint, steel to make dies was scarce and funds were scarcer. The Mint operated on a shoestring budget and if any dies were leftover at the end of the year, there was good reason to reuse them. There are many overdates from the 1790’s and early 1800’s and many were probably caused by economic reasons.
Quality control at the Mint during the early years was often lax and some overdates appear to have been produced by accident. These accidents occurred when an engraver inadvertently employed a date punch that was not consistent with the die he was working on. This appears to be the case with some of the overdated coins produced during the 1830’s and 1840’s.
Let’s look at some of the more interesting overdates that occur on Liberty Head gold coins. We’ll save overdated early U.S. gold coins for another time as the list and scope of these is very comprehensive.
Gold Dollars: There are no gold dollars that were overdated. It is interesting to note that there are very few varieties of note in this entire denomination. The branch mints, where one would have expected an overdate or two to have occurred, never produced one in this denomination.
Quarter Eagles: The Philadelphia, Charlotte and Dahlonega issues from 1839 have been called 1839/8 overdates in the past but this is incorrect. The only genuine overdate for the Liberty Head type is the 1862/1. This is a clearly visible overdate that was probably caused by the stress involved with producing gold coinage during the most intense year of the Civil War. It was once believed to be extremely rare but now is only regarded as very scarce. In higher grades, the 1862/1 is very rare. I have personally seen two or three in Uncirculated including a PCGS MS62 that was the best of these.
Three Dollars: You would think that this odd denomination contained an overdate or two but it does not. In fact, there are virtually no significant varieties.
Half Eagles: The pre-1834 issues of this denomination are fertile ground for overdate collectors. The Liberty Head issues are not as interesting when it comes to varieties. There are only two legitimate overdates: the 1881/0 and the 1901/0-S.
The 1881/0 is an overlooked issue that I think is undervalued and quite interesting. There are hundreds known in circulated grades and it is available even in the lower Mint States grades without much effort. It is rare in MS63, very rare in MS64 and may not exist in Gem. A very presentable Uncirculated 1881/0 half eagle can be obtained for less than $2,000.
The 1901/0-S half eagle is probably the most common overdated Liberty Head gold coin of any denomination. A total of 3,648,000 half eagles were coined in San Francisco in 1901 and my guess is that a decent percentage of these were overdated. This variety is common in circulated grades and easily located in grades up to and including MS63. It is scarce in MS64 and rare in MS65 or better. In lower grades it sells for virtually no premium over a common 1901-S and it is a good introduction to the world of overdates coins for the neophyte.
Eagles: The first few “overdate” issues in this series are either controversial or simply wrong. This parade of suspects is led by the 1839/8 Large Letters (Type of 1838). As with the similarly dated quarter eagles, what has been described as an overdate is, in fact, a defect in the die which can be mistaken for an “1839/8.”
For many years, the 1846/5-O was believed to be an overdate but this has been disproven by me and other specialists. Some collectors believe that an 1849/1848 overdate exists but the pieces that I have are not convincing and I don’t think this variety exists. Same goes for the 1857/5; a variety that has been claimed to exist but which I am certain is not a true overdate.
The only legitimate overdate in the entire Liberty Head eagle series is the 1853/2. The variety has received some fanfare over the years but it is still underappreciated; especially given its status as the only true overdate in the series. I estimate that there are around 125-150 known with most in the EF45 to AU50 range. This variety is very rare in properly graded AU55 and above and extremely rare in Uncirculated. I have seen only one Uncirculated example, an MS61 graded by PCGS.
The 1865-S/Inverted 186 has been called an overdate but it is not; it is actually a blundered date caused by mis-entering the first date punch.
Double Eagles: There is only one overdated Liberty Head double eagle: the 1853/2. This is a somewhat controversial issue and it is one that I have seen a few prominent numismatists (including Dave Bowers) state that it is not an overdate but a recut date. I am of the belief that it is an overdate but that some of the pieces that have been designated as “overdates” but PCGS and NGC are later die states that are questionable. The real 1853/2 double eagle has a bold oblong obverse die dot below the foot of the R in LIBERTY. It also shows fairly clearly within the bottom loop of the 3 the straight-lined base of a 2. There are an estimated 200-250 known in all grades and the 1853/2 is quite scarce in the AU range. It is very rare in Uncirculated with probably no more than a half dozen known. I have seen three or four that grade MS61 or slightly better.
Putting together a set of overdated Liberty Head gold coinage would be a fairly easy task. It would consist of only five coins and only one—the 1853/2 double eagle—is expensive in higher grades. The really fun and challenging overdates tend to occur on the pre-1834 issues but as I mentioned above these are often expensive and some are extremely rare.