The 1863 Eagle: An Unheralded Rarity

One of my favorite American coins is the 1863 eagle. I had a lovely NGC EF45 pass through my hands recently and it inspired me to write a blog about what I think is one of the absolute rarest Liberty Head eagles. Production of this issue was limited to a scant 1,218 business strikes, and I rate the 1863 as the third rarest Liberty Head eagle after the 1875 and the 1864-S. There are probably fewer than 30 known in all grades, with most in the EF40 to AU50 range. There are very likely as few as six or seven known in AU grades and two in Uncirculated; more about these a little further down the page.

1863 $10.00 NGC EF45 CAC

A quick search of auction records shows that no problem-free 1863 eagles have sold since October 2010, and only seven records exist for problem-free coins in the last decade. My records show that I have handled exactly two pieces in the last five years: an NGC EF45 and a PCGS AU53.

When available, the 1863 tends to be bright from having been cleaned or dipped and it is invariably very heavily abraded. This piece shown above is one of the very few circulated pieces that I have seen with natural color. There are a few small abrasions on the surfaces, but they are much cleaner than usual.

There are two high-grade 1863 eagles known. The finest is the Bass IV: 683 coin which sold for $52,900 in 2000; a price which, at the time, I thought represented possibly the single biggest bargain all of the three Bass sales which featured gold coins. Bass had, through an agent, bought this exact coin in August 1991 for $104,500. Harry didn't lose money on many coins but he got spanked — and good — on this one; all the more remarkable considering that it is the finest known example of a truly rare issue and it is exceptional for the grade. Today, it would bring considerably more than in either of its previous auction appearances.

The other Uncirculated 1863 eagle is an MS62 that was found as part of the S.S. Republic treasure. I have never personally seen this coin, but it is in the collection of a western specialist along with many other finest known or Condition Census pieces from this shipwreck.

Civil War gold coins have been very popular in recent years as a result of the sesquicentennial of the war plus promotions/popularization by dealers such as myself. While it is not well-known outside of the specialist community, it is my belief that there are currently many collectors who would appreciate a nice 1863 eagle in their holdings.

Do you buy rare gold coins?

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Contact Doug Winter at (214) 675-9897 or by email at dwn@ont.com.

 

Assembling a Date Set of Civil War Gold Coins: Part Two, 1863

The first installment of this three-part article discussed the various Civil War gold issues struck in 1861 and 1862. The second part looks at the very interesting gold issues from 1863; a pivotal year in the history of the brutal war and a very significant year in the annals of American numismatic history. 1863 $1.00

1863 Gold Dollar: While 6,200 business strikes were made, this is a rarer date than most casual collectors know. I regard it as the single rarest gold dollar from the Philadelphia mint; rarer even than the 1875 with a mintage of just 400 pieces. The odd thing about the 1863 is that when available, it is likely to be found in the lower Uncirculated grades. As an example, there are a total of forty graded by PCGS but over half of these (twenty one to be exact) are in Uncirculated. There are a few Gems known. The finest is an incredible PCGS MS68 owned by a California specialist that, I believe, is from the Brand collection. There is also a PCGS MS66 that is owned by a collector.

This is an issue that is well made but one which tends to have problems with original surfaces and luster. I have seen a few really nice 1863 gold dollars but most have been cleaned or dipped and have poor eye appeal as a result. Any nice example of this issue is very desirable. For the advanced Civil War collector, the opportunity to acquire a piece grading MS64 or above would be quite special and should be looked at as important.

1863 $2.50

1863 Quarter Eagle: As you might recall from the first part of this series, the mintage for the 1861 quarter eagle was an absurdly high 1,283,878. Thus, there was no real need for business strike quarter eagles in 1863. The 1863 is a proof-only issue with just thirty struck. This makes it a key rarity in the Civil War gold set and, of course, the single rarest (and most expensive) issue from 1863.

There are around twenty 1863 quarter eagles known. Most are in the PR63 to PR64 range but there are a few gems remaining including some with lovely Deep Cameo contrast between the devices and the fields. I know of at least four or five PR65's and there may be a few more. The current auction record for this date is $149,500 for Heritage 1/07: 3107, graded PR66UC by NGC.

I have mixed feelings towards the 1863 quarter eagle. In some ways, I think it is a very undervalued issue as it is the third rarest Liberty Head quarter eagle (after the 1854-S and the 1841) in terms of total known. But if you look at it merely as a Proof issue from this era, it sells for a huge premium over dates like the 1864 and 1865 which are actually as rare--if not rarer--in terms of the total known as Proofs. What needs to be remembered is that if collecting Liberty Head quarter eagles by date ever becomes fashionable, the demand for this date is likely to exceed its supply and today's price levels are inevitably going to seem cheap.

1863-S $2.50

1863-S Quarter Eagle: As you might expect, the 1863-S quarter eagle tends to be overlooked due to the rarity of its Proof-only Philadelphia counterpart. With just 10,800 struck, it is scarce in its own right. There are an estimated 100-125 extent with most in ther VF-EF range. An accurately graded AU50 to AU55 1863-S quarter eagle with nice color and surfaces is scarce and a properly graded AU58 is very rare. There are three or four in Uncirculated including two Gems: ANR 3/06: 1457 that sold for $50,600 (it is ex Eliasberg: 198) and the Dodson: 41 example that brought $18,700 all the way back in May 1992 when it was sold by Mid-American.

There are a few examples known of this date that are very weakly struck at the centers; this seems to be the result of an improper alignment of the dies. Most are well detailed but have unoriginal surfaces. The natural coloration for this issue is a medium to deep rose-gold to reddish hue which can be very appealing. For most Civil War date collections, a nice AU example of the 1863-S quarter eagle will suffice but I think Uncirculated pieces, if available, are good value.

1863 $3.00

1863 Three Dollars: This is one of the odder issues from the entire Civil War era. With just 5,000 business strikes made, you would expect the 1863 three dollar to be a rarity. While it is reasonably scarce from an overall standpoint, it is the most available Civil War issue of this denomination in Uncirculated and there are actually as many as a dozen to fifteen Gem to Superb Uncirculated pieces known. I have seen 1863 Threes that grade as high as MS67 to MS68 and I know of an example in a well-known dealer's collection (graded MS67 by PCGS) that is probably the single best business strike Three Dollar gold from the Civil War era of any date.

Nearly all 1863 Threes have prominent clashmarks at the centers and numerous mint-made die striations in the fields. The quality of strike is usually sharp and the luster tends to be excellent. There are a number of outstanding examples known and the collector should be able to find a great piece for his Civil War set. I'd suggest at least an MS64, if not a Gem.

1863 $5.00

1863 Half Eagle: There were 2,442 business strike half eagles made at the Philadelphia mint in 1863. There are around three dozen known today and while a number have been graded AU50 and better by NGC and PCGS, this is an extremely rare coin in higher grades. It is unknown in Uncirculated and I have seen maybe six to eight that I thought were truly About Uncirculated. The best I can recall was the PCGS AU58 Bass II: 1143 coin which went cheaply at $13,800 and it has been years since I've seen an AU example with even the slightest amount of eye appeal.

This is a date that saw quite a bit of circulation and the few that survived the melting pot tend to have excessive abrasions on the surfaces. In addition, nearly every 1863 half eagle that I have seen has been cleaned or dipped. As a result, examples with even decent eye appeal are exceedingly rare and the collector who only wants nice, original coins for his Civil War date set is going to find the 1863 half eagle to be a very frustrating issue. That said, I'd suggest waiting for the best available piece which is likely to be around AU55 or so.

1863-S $5.00

1863-S Half Eagle: Demand for gold coins remained high in the western states during the Civil War and the mintage figure for the 1863-S half eagle was 17,000; nearly seven times more than for the 1863 Philadelphia half eagle. The 1863-S is certainly not seven times more available than the 1863-P; it saw heavy use in commerce and was later melted extensively. I have seen estimates that as many as sixty to seventy-five are known but this seems high; the likely number is more like fifty to sixty-five with most of these in very low grades. There is a single 1863-S half eagle known in Uncirculated (it is graded MS61 by PCGS) and there are maybe as many as seven to ten in AU. The current record for the date is $25,875 set by the NGC 58 sold as Lot 9489 in Stack's 6/11 auction.

When available, this date is found with better eye appeal than the 1863-P but not by much. The luster tends to be decent but most 1863-S half eagles are abraded (often heavily) and show evidence of cleaning or dipping. Any coin with original color and surfaces is rare and desirable. The Civil War collector should look for a nice AU53 to AU55 for his set.

1863 $10.00

1863 Eagle: And now we get to my favorite 1863 gold issue: the 1863-P eagle. The mintage of this issue is a tiny 1,218 business strikes and by most accounts, there are around thirty or so known. The 1863 is the second rarest Liberty Head eagle from this mint after the 1875 and it is one of the hardest issues of the entire design to locate in all grades despite not being all that well known. This date is unique in Uncirculated (a PCGS MS63) that is ex Bass IV: 683 (at $52,900) and earlier ex MARCA 9/91: 755 (sold to Harry Bass for a then-remarkable $104,500). There are around six to nine known in About Uncirculated and I can't recall having seen more than two or three that I felt were AU55 or AU58.

My comments for this issue are very similar to the 1863-P half eagle. It is a coin that saw rough use in commerce and the few that survive tend to show numerous abrasions, often in obtrusive locations. You can almost forget about eye appeal when it comes to this date, but I'd say that if you ever have the chance to obtain an 1863 eagle with an even remotely decent appearance, I'd suggest you approach it aggressively.

1863-S $10.00

1863-S Eagle: There were 10,000 eagles struck at the San Francisco mint in 1863. This is a rare issue although not as much so as the 1863-P. I believe that there are around fifty or so known with most in the EF40 to AU50 range. As surprising as it seems, there may be as many as three 1863-S eagles known. The best is a PCGS MS61 that is ex Heritage 10/95: 6330 and before this was in the Norweb collection. The Bass IV: 684 coin was also a PCGS MS61. NGC has graded an MS61 that was last sold as Goldberg 2/09:1535. There are also a few reasonably nice AU's known including at least one from the S.S. Republic graded AU58 by NGC.

As with nearly all SF Civil War era gold, the 1863-S eagle is seldom found with natural color and surfaces. It is an issuee that is somewhat better made than in its half eagle counterpart and the few higher grade pieces known have better than average quality luster. This will not rove to be as challenging an issue to find as the 1863-P eagle but it is a rarity in its own right and any collection that has a nice AU55 or better example will probably never need to improve upon this.

1863 $20.00

1863 Double Eagle: After the 1862, the 1863 is the hardest Philadelphia double eagle from the Civil War to locate. There are a few hundred known in all grades with EF40 to AU50 examples being the most often seen. This date becomes scarce in the higher AU grades although it is far more available than, say, the 1863-P half eagle or eagle. In Uncirculated there are around two dozen known with most in the MS60 to MS61 range. The finest known is a single MS64 graded by PCGS; I believe this was once sold as Akers 8/90: 1960 and it brought $41,800 long before the Type One double eagle market was as active as it is today.

This is a well made issue that is better struck than the 1863-S double eagle and generally less abraded as well. The patient Civil War gold coin collector should be able to locate a nice AU example without much of a problem. An Uncirculated coin, at least in the MS60 to MS61 range, will be available from time to time as well. Anything that grades MS62 or finer will prove extremely hard to locate.

1863-S $20.00

1863-S Double Eagle: The mintage for this one issue (966,570) is considerably more than all the other San Francisco gold denominations combined. Much of the newly discovered gold from California and Nevada was being used to produce double eagles and these coins saw active use in commerce.

The 1863-S double eagle is the most common gold coin of this year in circulated grades. It is possible to procure a presentable example in the $2,000-3,000 range and a nice Choice AU for around $5,000. In Uncirculated, the rarity of this date takes on a different profile. The 1863-S is scarce in MS60 to MS61 and very rare in properly graded MS62 with maybe five or six known. In MS63 there are probably another three or four. The finest known is currently an NGC MS64* that recently sold for $43,125 as Lot 5041 in the Heritage 1/12 auction.

As a year, the 1863 is one of the most interesting of the Civil War era. It is a year that has some really scarce coins but unlike the 1861, it has nothing that is impossible to find at any price (the 1861-P Paquet) or expensive due to its rarity and/or popularity. 1863 is a year that will prove extremely challenging to locate in higher grades and there are no "slam dunk" issues like the 1861 and 1862 gold dollars that will be easy to locate even in Gem grades.

In the upcoming third and final installment of this series, we will look at the 1864 and 1865 gold coinage. If you have questions or comments about these--or any--coins, please feel free to contact me via email at dwn@ont.com

America's Forgotten Rarities: The 1863 Eagle

Beginning with this article, I'm going to focus, from time to time, on issues that I regard as "forgotten rarities." These are coins that are truly rare but which, for a variety of reasons, do not get the fanfare that they deserve. I plan on featuring a selected gold rarity once every month or so. The first issue that I want to discuss is the 1863 eagle. I'm going to try to avoid "condition rarity" issues in this series. In other words, I'm featuring coins that are rare in the most absolute sense of the word. And I think the 1863 eagle has this concept of rarity absolutely nailed.

There were only 1,218 eagles produced at the Philadelphia mint in 1863. For all denominations other than the double eagle, mintages were extremely low this year, which makes sense given the economic conditions of the Civil War (at the beginning of the year it was still not readily known if the Union forces would prevail). The low mintage of this issue, combined with a generally low survival rate for gold coins of this era, meant that the 1863 eagle was a rarity from the time it was struck.

I regard the 1863 as the third rarest business strike issue in this entire series, trailing only the 1875 and the 1864-S. I believe that there are around 30-35 known in all grades. As of March 2010, the combined total of coins graded at PCGS and NGC was 37 but this figure is clearly inflated by resubmissions; NGC, as an example, shows eight coins alone in AU58.

The surviving examples tend to be in the VF-EF grade range. Eagles of this era were clearly used in commerce and those that were not later melted tend to show numerous abrasions and signs of rough handling. I can't recall having seen more than three to five 1863 eagles that had original color and reasonably clean surfaces. Many have been cleaned or processed and properly graded AU examples are very rare.

Since 2000, there have been only six auction records for 1863 eagles that have not been damaged, harshly cleaned or ungradable by PCGS and NGC. The most recent record of note was Heritage 1/05: 30496, graded AU58 by NGC, that realized $28,750. This coin was not choice for the grade, in my opinion, yet it was still a bargain given its rarity and comparatively high degree of preservation.

1863 $10.00, courtesy of Heritage

The finest known 1863 eagle is a coin that has been graded MS63 by both PCGS and NGC and it appears in both firms population reports as such. The coin was last sold as Bass IV: 683 for $52,900 in 2000. Harry Bass purchased it out of the 8/91 Mid American sale where he paid a then-strong $104,500. It is one of the very few coins in the Bass collection that was sold at a significant loss and, in retrospect, it was one of the single best values in any of the four Bass sales conducted between 1999 and 2000.

There is a second Uncirculated 1863 eagle. It has been graded MS62 by NGC and it was uncovered in the treasure of the S.S Republic.

The valuation of the 1863 eagle is way off the mark, in my opinion. The most recent Trends shows values of $9,000 in EF40, $12,000 in EF45, $17,500 in AU50, $25,000 in AU55 and $32,500 in AU58. Given the paucity of recent trades, it is hard to state with certainty exactly what this issue is worth. But it seems to me that $12,000 for an EF45 example of a coin as rare as this is very good value, especially when compared to other less rare eagles of this era.

One of the ways that I can determine the true rarity of a coin is by how many that I have handled in the last few years. After checking my records, I see that I have not handled an 1863 eagle since 2005 and I've only had a total of two in the last dozen years. Considering the fact that I've handled probably a dozen 1870-CC eagles in the last decade (if not more), this shows me that the 1863 eagle is an incredible rarity.

I'd love your suggestions about which gold coins are "forgotten rarities." If you have any suggestions for future pieces in this series please email them to me at dwn@ont.com.