The 1884 Three Dollar Gold Piece

One of the things that’s fun about being a coin dealer is the variety of interesting numismatic items that come across your desk. Just yesterday, within the span of an hour, I handled a cleaned Extremely Fine High Relief double eagle, an interesting group of Dahlonega quarter eagles, a rare date Seated Liberty quarter dollar and what I believe is among the finest known 1884 Three Dollar gold pieces. I have liked this date for many years and as recently as a few days ago, I listed it as one of my 12 Great Values in the Market Priced at Under $5,000 in my December 2008 featured article. But handling this superb 1884 Three Dollar gold piece, graded MS66 by PCGS, gave me the motivation to write about this date in greater detail.

There were just 1,000 business strikes produced and these were not made until December 13th. This very late date of issuance leads me to believe that there was essentially no demand for this denomination at this point other than for examples to be given as Christmas presents or to sell to collectors. And this belief is borne out by the fact that very few 1884 Three Dollar gold pieces are known in circulated grades. As of December 2008, PCGS had graded 92 examples of which 83 (or a whopping 90%) were in Uncirculated.

As with most of the later date Three Dollar gold pieces, the 1884 is a very well produced issue. The strike is typically very sharp with complete definition noted on the hair, the wreath and the denticles. A few show some minor weakness on the curls just to the left of Liberty’s ear. The surfaces are generally clean although the examples that grade MS63 and below tend to show light handling marks or hairlines from previous cleanings. The luster varies from Prooflike to very frosty. The coloration on uncleaned, original coins is often quite attractive with a range of hues seen: light rose, green-gold and orange-gold. This date generally has good eye appeal and there are some truly handsome examples known.

While available from time to time in MS63 and MS64, the 1884 becomes a rarity in Gem. PCGS has currently graded five in MS65 and two in MS66. NGC has graded four in MS65 and three in MS67. I am pretty certain that the NGC numbers are inflated by resubmissions. I do know for a fact that at least one coin exists in MS67 as I handled it a few years ago and sold it to a collector in South Texas. The other PCGS MS66 resides in the Great Lakes collection, which is the finest set of high grade Three Dollar gold pieces ever assembled.

The 1884 Three Dollar imaged above is one of the single most aesthetically attractive examples of this type that I have handled in many years. Unlike many of the high grade Threes that have thick, creamy luster (as seen on dates like the 1878 and 1888), this piece has a shimmering texture that can best be described as a blend between frosty and semi-prooflike. The coin has exquisite delicate green-gold and rose color and the surfaces approach perfection. The dealer who sent me this piece told me that it, literally, came “out of nowhere” and this is the first time it has ever been photographed or described.

One last thing before I close. How many 1884 Threes are known? In my book on this series (written with Q. David Bowers and published in 2005) I estimated that 55-75 were known in Uncirculated as well as another 25-35 in circulated grades for a total of around 80-110. I believe that this figure is a bit on the low side and I’ve recently revised my estimate upwards to 125-150. As I stated above, most are in the lower Uncirculated grades. The PCGS population in MS64 is highly inflated byresubmissions and properly graded examples in MS63 and above are quite rare. I would seriously doubt if there are more than five to seven Gems.