The Finest Known 1858 Eagle

One of my all-time favorite United States gold coins is coming up for sale soon. The coin in question: the finest known 1858 Eagle, graded MS64 by PCGS. The venue of sale: the Heritage May 2007 Platinum Night auction at the Central States Convention. The 1858 is among the rarer and more noteworthy issues in the entire Liberty Head eagle series. There were only 2,521 examples produced of which an estimated three to four dozen exist. While both NGC and PCGS show other examples having been graded in Uncirculated, I believe that the 1858 is unique in strict Mint State. The present example has been graded MS64 by both PCGS and NGC and is very choice for the grade.

This coin has a very interesting history. In 1972, it walked into a coin shop in New York. According to the dealer who purchased it, the owner had acquired the coin from the legendary dealer Wayte Raymond sometime in the 1920’s or the 1930’s. It was placed into a specialist collection and was first sold at auction in 1980 where it realized an impressive $115,000.

After bouncing around between a number of dealers, the coin was sold to Warren Miller, a collector from New Jersey who was assembling what, at the time, was the finest collection of Liberty Head eagles ever attempted. It remained in the Miller collection until 1995 when this set was sold by Heritage. Amazingly, the coin did not meet its reserve and it was retained by Warren Miller. It took Miller quite a while to sell this coin, as the market in the 1990’s was not especially good for esoteric high five-figure/low six figure coins; no matter how rare or neat they were.

Eventually, it was purchased by a type collector who was putting together a set of high grade coins designed by Christian Gobrecht. (And hats off to a type/design collector who chooses one of the single greatest Liberty Head eagles in existence as his ten dollar gold representative...that’s my kind of type collector!). He kept it for a decade or so and then made the decision to sell the coin in the auction mentioned above.

So, what is it about this piece that makes it worthy of so much praise? After all, isn’t it “just” an expensive, esoteric coin? In a sense that is true but the market has become far more appreciative of coins like this since the Dog Days of the mid-to-late 1990’s. While few people “need” this coin to complete their date set of 1858 coinage or their Liberty Head eagle set (and don’t snicker at the last comment; more people collect $10 Libs. by date than you think...) lots of people now appreciate one-of-a-kind coins with a real mystique. Just like this 1858 eagle.

Looking at this piece from a more global perspective, here’s what you need to know. It’s the finest known example of a coin that is genuinely scarce in all grades. It’s a No Motto eagle in a very high grade and even the “common dates” of this design type are very rare in MS64. For many years it was the world-record holder for a Liberty Head eagle (business strike) sold at auction and it has a cult following among gold coin specialists. Most importantly, it’s a gorgeous coin for the grade with choice surfaces, lovely original color and luster and incredible eye appeal for the issue. In short, it’s a true trophy coin and a piece which could be a runaway if two or three savvy, big-budget collectors or investors decide they’ve got to have it.

So what’s the 1858 eagle going to sell for this time around? I’d give it a conservative estimate in the $100,000-125,000 range although I think it’s possible it could bring a lot more This is a coin which I will be excited to watch sell in a few weeks when I’m at the Heritage auction in St. Louis.