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

The Ten Rarest Liberty Head Quarter Eagles

The response to the article that I wrote last month on the ten rarest Liberty Head eagles was so overwhelmingly positive that I’ve decided to extend this format to other denominations of Liberty Head gold. This month’s topic: quarter eagles. The Liberty Head quarter eagle series was produced from 1840 through 1907. Unlike the larger denomination issues of this type, quarter eagles were never produced at the Carson City or Denver mints. Thus, these coins were produced at five facilities: Philadelphia, San Francisco, New Orleans, Charlotte and Dahlonega.

There are numerous ways in which to collect Liberty Head quarter eagles. Most specialists focus on the issues from a specific mint. The most popular individual mint is Dahlonega, followed by Charlotte and New Orleans.

A small but dedicated cadre of collectors attempts to put together a complete set of Liberty Head quarter eagles. Such a set can be completed although at least two or three issues are very rare and quite expensive. This set is impossible to complete in Uncirculated due to the unavailability of at least one issue (the 1854-S) in Mint State. Every other issue, however, is known in Uncirculated although a number of these are extremely rare.

Some of the collectors who are attempting to assemble a complete set of Liberty Head quarter eagles also include significant varieties. These are generally limited to the ones that are recognized by PCGS and/or NGC.

One interesting way to collect this series would be to focus on the major rarities or key issues. But in the case of the Liberty Head quarter eagles, the most famous coins are not necessarily the rarest. Most readers of this article will be surprised that I have not included the famous 1848 CAL in the list of the ten rarest issues of this type. Even though this is clearly one of the ten most popular (and most desirable) issues, it is less scarce than generally acknowledged and it does not make the Top Ten list.

Without further ado, here are the ten rarest Liberty Head quarter eagles along with pertinent information about each issue:

1. 1854-S

2. 1841

3. 1863

4. 1864

5. 1865

6. 1856-D

7. 1855-D

8. 1875

9. 1866

10. 1842

1. 1854-S: The 1854-S is the rarest Liberty Head quarter eagle by a fairly large margin. There are around a dozen examples known from the original mintage of just 246 coins. Something that I have always found interesting about this date is the fact that most of the survivors are extremely well worn. At least five or six of the dozen known either grade VF20 or less or show damage. In fact, I am aware of just two examples that grade EF (by my standards) and a single coin that grades AU. For many years, the 1854-S was overlooked and, in comparison to other great U.S. gold rarities, it was greatly undervalued. The first example of this date to sell for a six-figure price was Bass II: 472 (now graded AU53 by NGC) that brought $135,700 in October 1999. In September 2005, I purchased an NGC EF45 example that was previously unknown to the collecting community out of an ANR auction for $253,000. This record was broken in February 2007 when a PCGS EF45 brought $345,000 in a Heritage sale. My best guess is that prices will continue to rise for this issue and the next comparatively choice example that is made available to collectors will set another price record.

2. 1841: This is probably the most famous date in this series and, for many years, it was the issue that traditionally sold for the highest price when it appeared at auction. Known as “The Little Princess,” it has been stated that “20 pieces” were struck. For many years, numismatic tradition has stated that these were produced only as Proofs. It is my opinion that some (if not most) were also struck in a business strike format. It is also my opinion that the reported mintage is too low and that as many as 50 or so were made. To the best of my knowledge, the current auction record for this issue is $253,000 which was set in June 2004 when Heritage sold an NGC PR65; this broke the previous record set by Bass III: 105 (graded PR64 by PCGS) back in 2000. I believe that a Gem 1841 quarter eagle, if available today, would sell for considerably more than this.

Note: For more information on this issue, please click here.

3. 1864: Placing this date as #3 on my Top Ten list may be a surprise to many collectors who probably expected the 1863 to make the #3 spot. But I feel the 1864 is clearly rarer than the 1863 and that it is one of the most overlooked and undervalued 19th century American issues. Only 2,824 were struck but, as with most gold coins from this era, the survival rate was very low due to significant meltings. I believe that around 15-20 examples are known. This includes an amazing NGC MS67 (ex: Byron Reed collection) that sold for $132,000 back in 1996 as well as two other Uncirculated coins, an NGC MS61 and a PCGS MS61, that are owned by two different collectors in Kansas. There are another six or seven that grade AU and the rest are in the VF-XF range. Despite this coin’s rarity, it is still affordable (especially in comparison to #1, #2 and #4 on this list).

Note: For more information on this issue please click here.

4. 1863: The 1863 is the single Proof-only quarter eagle of this type (although the 1841 has traditionally assumed to be as well; see above for my refutation of this belief). There were a total of 50 pieces struck of which I would estimate that around 20 or so exist. I place this coin as #4 on my Top Ten list based on the fact that I have seen far more 1863 quarter eagles available for sale in the last ten years than 1864 quarter eagles. Nonetheless, this is a very rare coin and it has always been a stopper for date collectors of this denomination. As recently as the middle of this decade, prices for this issue were relatively modest, considering this date’s rarity and significance. Nice PR63 to PR64 examples were selling for $35,000-50,000+ until a few years ago when prices began to jump; as they did for all Classic Rarities. The all-time auction record for this issue was set in January 2007 when Heritage sold an NGC PR66 Deep Cameo for $149,500. I have handled three examples of this date in the last four years. The 1863 quarter eagle is generally found with light hairlines but excellent contrast and very deep mirrors. It is a date whose importance is only now being fully realized and I believe that it is an issue whose price levels will continue to soar as this series becomes more popular.

5. 1865: Due to the fact that it has a mintage of just 1,520, some people have assumed that the 1865 is a rarer date than the 1864. This is not the case as the 1865 appears to have a slightly higher survival rate. My best estimate is that there are 25-35 examples known. According to the PCGS Population Report, there is an example graded MS63. I am not aware of this piece but assuming that it exists, it is by far the finest known and it is the only Uncirculated 1865 quarter eagle that exists. Both PCGS and NGC show an abnormally high number of coins graded AU58 and this is as a result of multiple resubmissions. I believe that there are around six or seven properly graded AU’s known as well as another ten or so in EF. When available, this date tends to have below average eye appeal due to very scuffy surfaces. I haven’t seen more than a handful of 1865 quarter eagles that were totally original and choice. At current price levels, I think this coin is excellent value as it is a major rarity that can be purchased in a Condition Census-level grade for less than $20,000.

6. 1856-D: There may actually be one or two quarter eagles that I placed lower on this list that are scarcer than the 1856-D. But these don’t have the little “D” mintmark placed on the reverse; a feature that makes this coin so endearing to specialists. Oh—and they don’t have an original mintage of just 874 coins either. The 1856-D is the rarest Dahlonega gold coin of any denomination with an estimated 45-55 pieces known. It is generally seen in EF grades with many advanced collectors holding out for a nice AU coin for their collection. As I have mentioned in past writings, this is probably the single hardest United States gold coin to properly grade due to the fact that it was poorly struck from improperly prepared dies and many examples have the luster and surfaces of one grade but the detail of another, far lower grade. The current auction record for an 1856-D was set by yours truly when I purchased the Heritage 4/06: 1513 coin for $71,875. This piece graded MS61 by NGC and it is certainly among the finest known.

Note: For more information on this issue please click here.

7. 1855-D: The 1855-D is the second rarest Dahlonega quarter eagle. For a number of years, I believed that it was the rarest but this is mistaken as the 1856-D (see above) is clearly rarer. Only 1,123 1855-D quarter eagles were struck and an estimated 50-60 are believed to exist. This issue tends to be a bit better struck than the 1856-D but it is another issue that the eye appeal tends to be negative. Any 1855-D that is well struck and which shows original color is very rare and worth a significant premium over the typical example. Most are seen in the VF to EF range and properly graded AU’s are very rare. I have only seen one or two that I regard as Uncirculated. The finest known is the example in the Smithsonian that is said to grade MS62 or thereabouts. The all-time auction record is Heritage 4/06: 1512 (graded MS61 by NGC) that realized $54,625.

Note: For more information on this issue please click here.

8. 1875:If this article had been written a few decades ago, it is likely that the 1875 would have ranked much higher up the list. With an original mintage of just 400 business strikes, it is easy to see why this date was once believed to be an extreme rarity. It appears that the 1875 is actually a bit more available than one would assume (this is also the case with the ultra-low mintage gold dollar of this year) with as many as 50-60+ pieces known. That said, the 1875 quarter eagle is still extremely popular and I love the fact that the collector of average means can still purchase a decent EF example, given the fact that these still trade in the $4,000-5,000 range. The 1875 becomes rare in properly graded AU55 and it is very rare in Uncirculated with four to six known. The finest I have seen is Goldberg 5/99: 666 (graded MS64 by PCGS; it sold for $25,300) while the second best is probably the Bass II: 587 coin (graded MS62 by PCGS; it brought $17,250 back in 1999). The 1875 quarter eagle is nearly always found with fully prooflike surfaces but it is easy to distinguish from a Proof due to an entirely different date position.

9. 1866: As you can tell from this list, the Philadelphia quarter eagles from 1863 to 1866 include many of the rarest individual issues in this entire series. The 1866 is not quite in the same league as the 1864 or 1865 but it is another rarity with an original mintage of just 3,080. There are around 55-65 known with most in the EF40 to AU50 range. The 1866 is extremely scarce in the middle AU grades and rare in properly graded AU58. There are around five or six known in Uncirculated. Interestingly, this date was unknown in Uncirculated at the time Akers wrote his seminal guide to quarter eagles. I am aware of at least two Gems and another coin that grades MS64. The all-time auction record is held by Heritage 5/07: 2239 (graded MS65 by PCGS; it sold for $40,250). All 1866 quarter eagles have satiny luster and surfaces that show pronounced horizontal die striations.

10. 1842: This is probably the least well-known date in my Top Ten list and, honestly, I think I am slighting it by ranking it as “only” #10. The 1842 quarter eagle is very scarce in all grades and around 50-60 are known from the original mintage of just 2,823. Unlike the 1866 and 1875, this issue is generally seen in very low grades and it becomes extremely rare in AU. I doubt if more than five to seven properly graded AU’s exist and in Mint State the 1842 is unique. I sold a PCGS MS62 a number of years ago to a Kansas collector who owns the finest set of Liberty Head quarter eagles ever assembled. I had earlier bought the coin from the Superior 9/99 auction where, as Lot 1863, it sold for $31,050. Despite this issue’s unassailable rarity, it is still very reasonably priced. I have seen examples in EF grades bring between $3,000 and $5,000 at auction which seems downright cheap for a coin that is many times rarer than its better-known (and more expensive) branch mint counterparts from this era.

There are a number of other Liberty Head quarter eagles that I think are worthy of Honorable Mention status. These include the 1844, 1845-O (if the Top Ten list featured bonus points for popularity, I would have certainly included this date instead of the far less popular 1866 or the more obscure 1842), 1862/1, 1863-S, 1867 (possibly the most underrated date in the entire series) and the 1872.