Douglas Winter Numismatics Sets World Record with $1.645 Million Dollar Purchase

Douglas Winter Numismatics Sets World Record with $1.645 Million Dollar Purchase

There are just two 1861 Paquet Reverse double eagles known and this issue is ranked as the fourth rarest regular issue United States coin, after the unique 1870-S half dime and three dollar gold pieces and the 1873-CC No Arrows dime.

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The 1854-S Double Eagle: A Study

The 1854-S double eagle is one of the most interesting Liberty Head double eagles. It is widely acclaimed by collectors due to its status as the first double eagle from this mint, and the rarity of the quarter eagle and half eagle from this year makes it a famous coin as well. That said, it is an issue that is not well understood and one whose rarity profile has been made confusing by inconsistencies from NGC and PCGS.

The 1854-S has a high original mintage figure of 141,468 and one would expect it to be available in higher grades. This is not necessarily the case, despite what appears to be a decent number in Uncirculated as per the grading services’ current figures.

As of August 2013, NGC had graded a total of 48 in Uncirculated, including 23 in MS63 and another 10 in MS64. PCGS had graded a total of 55 in Uncirculated, including 17 in MS63 and another three in MS64. With a total of 103 graded in Uncirculated, we can conclude that the 1854-S is only a marginally scarce coin in higher grades and it seems more available in comparably high grades (i.e., MS63 and higher) than such contemporary non-shipwreck dates from this mint as the 1855-S, 1858-S and 1859-S.

However, this is not the case.

What the NGC and PCGS populations fail to address is the fact that virtually every Uncirculated 1854-S double eagle is a shipwreck coin. And what’s worse is that these are designated on the holder as being from a shipwreck - and both services seem wildly inconsistent with how this date is graded and why some blatantly “environmental damage” coins are in “normal” holders while others are not.

Essentially every high-grade 1854-S double eagle is from the S.S. Yankee Blade shipwreck which was found in 1977. This wreck contained approximately 200-300 coins. These were Uncirculated coins which must have been spectacular before the boat carrying them sank; the survivors tend to show very few marks but they have matte-like surfaces from exposure to seawater. Some examples have less etching in the surfaces than others; some are clearly salvaged and have oxidation as well as scratches from the process of removing crud from the surfaces.

What few collectors realize is that, as with the 1854-S eagle, the survival rate of high grade 1854-S double eagles with original surfaces is exceptionally low. I have seen exactly three with original surfaces which I grade Choice AU to Mint State by today’s standards. In comparison, I have probably owned 20 examples graded MS62 to MS64 but with “unoriginal” surfaces.

The choicest 1854-S double eagles I have seen with original surfaces include a PCGS 61 from the Bass collection (ex Bass III: 781 at $10,450; I later sold this coin to a collector on the East Coast), an NGC MS61 which I bought out of a Heritage sale around ten years ago (and can’t currently remember the exact pedigree), and a PCGS AU58 which I purchased from a New York dealer around four years ago and which was very choice for the grade. I believe that a few others are known but I can stately with reasonably strong conviction that none exist in grades higher than MS61.

There are certain diagnostics seen on the Yankee Blade coin which are not seen on the coins with original surfaces. Some of these are as follows:

  1. The shipwreck coins always have an obverse die crack which runs up from a denticle at 6:00 on the obverse through the left side of the 5 in the date, terminating at the truncation.
  2. The reverse has a total of three cracks. The first runs into the field (at the viewer’s left) from the base of the N in UNITED. The second crack begins between the denticles left of the first T in TWENTY up to the left tip of the letter. The third begins at the tip of the T in TWENTY and travels left into the field ending below the N in UNITED. On the late die state, these three cracks meet below the base of the right foot of the N in UNITED.
  3. The shipwreck coins always show a broken crossbar in the A in STATES.

The original surface coins do not show these die cracks. They do have a similar mintmark, and all seem to have the broken crossbar. Interestingly, there are a number of small raised die dots on the obverse with two to the right of the 4 in the date, and three at the throat. There is also a small raised die dot on the neck.

I don’t believe that the original surface coins are from a different die pair than the seawater coins; just a different die state.

Breen lists four different die varieties for the 1854-S, but one of these is a Proof-only die (the unique coin in the Mint Collection) while another, described as having “extra thin numerals and letters,” is just a late state with lapped dies. He states that 8 pairs of dies were created and that the mintmark “usually…touches the tail; though on one it is free.” (He then states that on one it is “embedded.”). I have only seen one reverse and it always has a broken A in STATES and a mintmark which firmly touches the tail at its top.

There is, of course, another significant difference on the original surface coins and that is a different texture from a lack of exposure to seawater and sand.

1854-S $20.00 NGC AU58+ CAC with original surfaces

Original surface 1854-S double eagles typically show a deep green-gold or orange-gold hue. The luster doesn’t tend to be as frosty as that seen on 1855-S or 1856-S double eagles. The overall look tends to be subdued with multiple abrasions from hard circulation.

1854-S $20.00 NGC MS64, with evidence of seawater

There are two distinct looks for seawater 1854-S double eagles. The first is blatantly matte-like with heavy environmental damage; some of these are slabbed as “normal” coins by NGC and PCGS while others are “details only” or “genuine.” The more familiar look on the Yankee Blade coins is bright and slightly matte-like with rich yellow-gold color and a virtual absence of circulation marks on the surfaces.

The normal surface 1854-S double eagles should sell for a significant premium in all grades due to the scarcity. This date is seen from time to time in the EF40 to AU50 range, but it becomes very scarce in AU53 to AU55, and it is very rare in properly graded AU58. As I mentioned above, I have seen only three examples with original surfaces in Uncirculated and doubt if more than five or six exist.

For more information on Type One double eagles, I invite you to look through the blog and articles archive(s) on or email me at with specific questions.

1862 $20.00 PCGS EF40

The 1862 is the rarest Type One double eagle from the Philadelphia mint, eclipsing the 1859 and the 1863. It is hard to find in all grades and when available, it tends to be very unappealing. This example, which was recently located in Europe and which is identifiable as such by the plastic "gasket" that PCGS uses for coins they grade in their Paris office, is one of the few totally original examples of this date that I can recall seeing. It has deep, even orange-gold and greenish hues with very choice surfaces and sharp detail. There is some hidden luster within the protected areas and, to be honest, I think the coin is much closer to being an EF45 than an EF40. No EF40 examples have appeared at auction since Heritage 12/08: 6325 (graded by NGC) brought $6,325 and the present example is, in my opinion, as nice (or even nicer) than Heritage 9/20: 5570 (graded EF45 by NGC) that realized $8,625. An important Type One double eagle for the advanced collector.

1890-CC $20.00 PCGS AU58 CAC

Superbly toned in deep orange-gold hues with appealing deeper highlights offering contrast between the devices and the fields. This coin appears to have no real wear but is instead a "slider" due to some scuffs in the fields and light rubbing on the devices. Some abrasions can be seen in the obverse fields while the reverse is clean and choice. A decidely nicer coin than many of the 1890-CC double eagles that I see in MS60 and MS61 holders and an issue that is becoming hard to find with this degree of originality.

The 1854-S Type One Double Eagle

One of the more interesting and most misunderstood Type One double eagles is the 1854-S. This is an issue whose seemingly high population of Uncirculated coins belies the fact that it is actually extremely rare in higher grades. Read on for some more information about this interesting issue. The 1854-S double eagle is a historically significant coin as it is the first double eagle produced at the new San Francisco mint. Unlike the quarter eagle and half eagle of this year, it is a relatively obtainable coin as one would expect from its original mintage of 141,168. PCGS has graded a total of 148 while NGC has graded a total of 158. In my book “An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type I Double Eagles” I suggested a total population of 325-425+. I believe that this figure remains accurate.

What is especially interesting about this date, however, is its population in Uncirculated. Looking at the PCGS and NGC populations, one might think that the 1854-S is only moderately scarce. After all, PCGS has seen 52 in all grades of Mint State while NGC has recorded 68.

But the population reports fail to explain an important fact about the 1854-S double eagle: virtually every coin in a PCGS or NGC Uncirculated holder has matte-like surfaces as a result of exposure to seawater.

Seawater Uncirculated 1854-S double eagles come from no less than three sources:

The wreck of the Yankee Blade which sank off the coast of Santa Barbara in October 1854. It is believed that somewhere between 100 and “a few hundred” coins with Uncirculated sharpness were recovered.

The wreck of the S.S. Central America which sank in 1857. It is believed that 20 or so 1854-S double eagles were salvaged from this ship and this includes some with Uncirculated sharpness.

The wreck of the S.S. Republic which sank in 1865. There were eight 1854-S double eagles salvaged from this ship including five that were graded by NGC and three which were “no grades” due to problems. Seawater Uncirculated 1854-S have a matte-like surface texture due to exposure to the oceanic environment in which they rested for over a century. But there are also a few other interesting tell-tale signs that they show.

As mentioned above, the majority of the seawater 1854-S double eagles are from the Yankee Blade shipwreck. These coins (as well as the ones that I have seen from the S.S. Central America) have die cracks on the obverse and the reverse which are easily identifiable. On the obverse, there is a crack to the left of the 5 that runs from the rim to the truncation and which branches off to the right over the 4. Another crack begins at the left side of the coronet and runs up to the space between stars six and seven. The reverse shows a large crack from the first T in STATES out into the field below the UN in UNITED. I have never seen a seawater 1854-S double eagle in any grade that did not have these cracks.

What’s interesting about the non-seawater coins is that they do not show any of the cracks described above.

There are some other minor diagnostic differences between the seawater and non-seawater coins as well. On the former the 54 in the date are very close and the top of the mintmark is firmly embedded in the tail feathers. On the latter, the 54 appears to be less close and the mintmark is a bit lower.

I first learned about the rarity of high grade 1854-S double eagles with original surfaces around fifteen years ago and have searched for Uncirculated pieces for many years. The finest that I have ever seen is a piece that was recently sold as Lot 61779 in Heritage’s November 2007 sale where it brought $21,850; it had earlier been in the Bass collection and it sold for $10,925 when offered as Bass III: 781 in May 2000. The only other example I can recall having seen with claims to an Uncirculated grade was Heritage 1/05: 9473 ($5,175). This coin was in an old holder and it might grade MS60 or better by today’s standards. It is now owned by a collector in Connecticut.

So where are all of the high grade 1854-S double eagles without seawater surfaces? My guess is that a considerable number were melted. This seems more likely when one takes into account the fact that the vast majority of the 325-425+ pieces known lack original surfaces. My best estimate is that only 25-50 are (currently) known from non-shipwreck sources. It is my opinion that these should command a strong premium over seawater coins in all grades.

Assembling A Set of 20th Century Liberty Head Double Eagles

For the beginning collector, one of the best gold coin sets to consider is a set of 20th century Liberty Head double eagles. This set contains eighteen issues produced at three mints (Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco) between 1900 and 1907. There are a number of reasons why this set is a natural for many fledgling numismatists. These coins are big, attractive and contain nearly an ounce of gold; most of the eighteen dates can be found in reasonably high grade and there are no very expensive single issues. As a rule of thumb, it makes sense to assemble this set in Mint State. For the very common issues, I would suggest purchasing coins in the Mint State-63 to Mint State-64 range. For the scarcer issues (specifically the 1902 and the 1905) I would suggest looking for attractive, high quality Mint State-62 examples.

Before we start, here are some rules of thumb that the collector should keep in mind:

1. Try to assemble a set with a nice "matched" look. Your set will have more eye appeal if the coloration and the quality of the surfaces are nicely matched on each coin. If you are bothered by abrasions, wait for coins that are as clean as possible for the grade. If hairlines are what annoy you most, avoid coins that you do not like. The beauty of this set is that none of the coins is so rare that you will need to compromise your standards.

2. Don't overspend on the common issues. There are a number of coins in this set that are reasonably affordable in Mint State-63 or Mint State-64 but become very expensive in the next grade up. I would suggest that the coins which should be the most expensive in this set are the rarities: 1902 and 1905.

3. Try and include at least one Gem. Mint State-65 Liberty Head double eagles are currently an extremely good value at current price levels (around $3,500 as of late October 2003) and every set should have one lovely Gem.

4. Buy my book on Type Three Double Eagles. Self-serving, yes, but if you are going to collect this series than you should have the best reference work on it. (Contact me for ordering information at I would also suggest that you have access to a PCGS and NGC population report and a recent copy of Coin World Trends to help you with pricing.

Listed below is a quick date-by-date analysis, along with suggestions of which are the best "value grades" for each date and approximate price ranges for each issue.

1900: The 1900 is a very common date that can be found in all grades up to and including Mint State-65. For most collectors, a Mint State-63 ($700-900) or Mint State-64 ($1,200-1,500) will suffice.

1900-S: This is one of the harder dates in this series to find in Mint State-63 or better although its high original mintage figure suggests that some nicer pieces could be laying in wait. A nice Mint State-62 is just $600-700 but I think Mint State-63 examples are still good values in the $1,650-1,950 range. Look for coins with good color and luster and no severe marks.

1901: This is one of the most common dates in the set. You can actually find nice Mint State-65's (these are currently worth around $4,000) but most collectors will be content to purchase a Mint State-64 in the $1,250-1,500 range. Avoid examples which are overly spotted as many 1901's are found as such.

1901-S: Despite a high mintage figure, this date is very elusive in higher grades. But I would caution the collector that it is possible a group of better quality examples (in this case Mint State-63 and above) could turn-up in Europe. I would stick with a nice, premium quality Mint State-62 and expect to spend $700-900.

1902: The 1902 is one of the two keys in this series and with an original mintage figure of just 31,254 coins, it is unlikely that any large hoards will be found. Nice Mint State-62's currently trade for around $1,200-1,500 and are very good values. A Mint State-63 will cost $6,500-7,500 (if available) and may be out of the price range of many collectors.

1902-S: As with a number of the San Francisco issues in this set, there is a big price spread between Mint State-62 and Mint State-63 for the 1902-S double eagle. You can buy a nice Mint State-62 for just $500-600 while a Mint State-63 will run you $2,500 to 3,000. Seems to me like this is a coin that makes more sense in Mint State-62.

1903: The 1903 is an extremely common issue and can be found even in Mint State-65. I would personally recommend a nice Mint State-63 ($700-800) or a Mint State-64 ($1,250-1,500). A Gem makes an interesting alternative to a 1904 as your single "super grade" coin in the set as it is considerably scarcer yet sells for essentially no premium.

1903-S: A much easier coin to find in higher grades than the 1900-02 San Francisco issues, the 1903-S can be obtained in Mint State-63 for around $1,000-1,250. In my opinion, this is the best value grade as a Mint State-64 jumps to $2,500-2,750.

1904: The 1904 is the most common Liberty Head double eagle by a huge margin. It is extremely easy to locate in Mint State-64 and even in Mint State-65. In my opinion, I would rather buy this date in Mint State-64 and have a slightly better date (such as a 1901 or 1903) in Gem in this set. Given the availability of specimens, I suggest you be picky when buying a 1904.

1904-S: The 1904-S is the most common San Francisco date in this set and it is the only issue that can be found in Mint State-65 for just a small premium over the common 1904. Given the fact that it is a mintmarked issue, I would suggest at the very least buying a nice Mint State-64 ($1,250-1,500) or even "stretching" for a 65 coin ($4,000-4,500).

1905: Traditionally, the 1905 has been regarded as the rarest 20th century Liberty Head double eagle. While I personally think the 1902 is scarcer, there is no denying that the 1905 is a very tough coin. I think Trends is a bit too high for better quality pieces and that $3,000-3,500 is the right number to pay for a decent quality Mint State-62. Trends for a Mint State-63 is $15,000 but I have seen examples trade in the $9,000-10,000 range.

1905-S: This is yet another date with a big price difference between Mint State-62 and Mint State-63 but with a big enough population in Mint State-63 to convince me that a PQ Mint State-62 is the way to go. With nice Mint State-62's selling for just $550-650, this is a good value.

1906: The 1906 is not as tough an issue as the 1902 or the 1905 but it is scarce in its own right. A nice Mint State-62 coin is currently valued at $800-900 while a Mint State-63 jumps up to $3,500-4,000. Because of this large price spread, I would suggest trying to locate a very high-end Mint State-62 with good color, luster and surfaces.

1906-D: The 1906-D is not a rare date but it is historically significant as the first double eagle produced at the Denver mint. It is quite a bit harder to locate in higher grades than the 1907-D. Given its desirability as a first-year issue, I'd look to purchase a nice Mint State-63 which should cost $1,600-1,900.

1906-S: This issue is easy to find in Mint State-62 and Mint State-63 and only moderately scarce in Mint State-64. You can find a Mint State-62 for just $550-650 while a Mint State-63 will cost $1,300-1,600. I would probably go with a Mint State-63 but there is certainly nothing "wrong" with a Mint State-62 and its current $50-100 premium over a common 1904.

1907: A nice Mint State-63 example, which should be available for $600-700, is probably just fine for most 20th century Liberty Head double eagle collections. Should a collector wish to purchase a Mint State, these are readily available in the $1,400-1,800 range.

1907-D: The 1907-D is the final of two Liberty Head double eagles produced at the Denver mint. It is not a particularly scarce coin and it can be found in Mint State-63 and Mint State-64 grades without a problem. The former is currently valued at $1,110-1,400 while the latter is a very good value in the $1,450-1,750 range. A Mint State-65 coin should cost $3,500-4,000. I would consider stretching for one of these, not so much because it is a rare coin but because it is the only Denver issue that can be fond in Gem condition.

1907-S: This final-year-of-issue double eagle from the San Francisco mint is comparable to the 1907-D in Mint State-62 and Mint State-63 but is much scarcer in higher grades. A Mint State-62 coin can be purchased for $550-600 while a Mint State-63 will cost $1,500-1,750.

Many new collectors are intimidated by Liberty Head double eagles because of the price that the rare issues command and the seeming impossibility of completing a set. I feel that a 20th century date set is a great place to begin, due to the affordability of these issues and the fact that many can be purchased in Mint State-62 and Mint State-63 grades for under $1,000.