Recently Sold by DWN: 1865 $20.00, NGC MS66★, S.S.Republic Pedigree

In the last decade and a half, I have been instrumental in helping to create what is now a very solid collector market for choice and rare Type One Liberty Head double eagles. This is not to say that there weren’t great collections of these coins in the 1970’s and 1980’s; there were, but just not to the extent that there are today.

Of course, it didn’t exactly hurt this market to have no less than three major shipwrecks (S.S. Central America, S.S. Brother Jonathan, and S.S. Republic) located during the past two decades. This brought thousands and thousands of Type Ones into the market, and this number included many heretofore unthinkable pieces. These coins were professionally marketed and attracted new buyers into the market; some of whom became serious long-term collectors in their own right.

1865 $20.00 NGC MS66★, approved by CAC

The S.S. Republic didn’t get the notoriety of its counterparts but there were some amazing coins included in the treasure. The date that saw the best single coins, from a quality and appearance standpoint, was the 1865 double eagle. This makes sense as the boat sank in 1865 and these coins were essentially “brand new” and fresh from the Philadelphia mint.

No less than 271 Uncirculated examples of the 1865 double eagle were found in this treasure and some of these coins were truly special. Most were in the MS61 to MS63 range and were characterized by great luster and detail, but scattered scuffs and abrasions. A few dozen Gems were uncovered. And then there was one remarkable coin that was hand selected by the graders at NGC to represent this date in the Museum Collection which was formed by an investor in the salvage operation.

This incredible 1865 double eagle was graded MS66 by NGC and awarded a “star” designation for having exceptional eye appeal. The coin has semi-prooflike luster and its strike is as sharp as on any business strike Type One double eagle from the Civil War era which I have ever seen. It shows glowing golden-yellow color and its surfaces are nearly perfect save for a few minor scuffs in the fields.

There are a number of factors that make this an important coin.

  1. It is the second finest Civil War double eagle of any date after the famous PCGS MS67 1861 which sold for $352,000 in a 2013 auction.
  2. It is the single finest-known 1865 double eagle. The next best example is probably the PCGS/CAC MS65 which sold for $88,125 in a Heritage 2013 auction.
  3. It is the single highest-graded gold coin of any date or denomination from the S.S. Republic.

This coin was sold to an East Coast collector who is putting together a memorable set of Type One double eagles. This individual already owns the single finest known 1862 (an NGC MS64) and the single finest known 1864 (a PCGS MS65), so the addition of the finest known 1865 now gives him no less than three Philadelphia Civil War coins which are unimprovable.

1865 $20.00 NGC MS66★, approved by CAC

1865 $20.00 NGC MS66★, approved by CAC

For more information on choice and rare Type One Liberty Head double eagles or on any facet of collecting American coinage, please contact Doug Winter at (214) 675-9897 or via email at dwn@ont.com.

 

How To Collect Type One Double Eagles

Type One double eagles have become the single most popular area of collecting in the rare date United States gold coin market. With the discovery of over 10,000 high grade, formerly rare issues in the S.S. Central America, S.S. Brother Jonathan, and S.S. Republic shipwrecks, Type Ones have received tremendous publicity in both the numismatic and non-numismatic press. This is clearly a design type which is destined to remain popular with a number of future generations of collectors.

The 2002 edition of my book An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type One Double Eagles represented ground-breaking research on the series. I had previously written on New Orleans double eagles in my book New Orleans Gold Coins: 1839-1909 (published in 1992 and revised in 2006). Prior to this, collectors had to rely on the Breen Encyclopedia and David Akers’ trailblazing work on Liberty Head double eagles which was published in 1982. The 2002 edition of this book filled a great, need but it soon became outdated and needed to be revised.

After numerous starts and stops, I decided to revise the book in 2014 but with a twist: instead of publishing it in traditional book form, it will be released as a web-based project, and we will announce its availability (and URL!) later this year. (Here is the new site!) This was done for a number of reasons. The first is flexibility in updating. With a traditional book, updating it is a major chore. With the web-based format, it will be easy for me to continually update things like Condition Census, Auction Price Records, certified population figures, hoards, and important new discoveries. A web-based double eagle book will have a far greater reach than a traditional published book, and this might serve to bring more new collectors into the series. It will also enable me to have interactive features such as a comments section where collectors can add their input to each issue, and expanded potential to include more high-quality color photographs than in a traditional printed book. The possibilities are endless.

Type One double eagles appeal to collectors for a variety of reasons. They are the first type of double eagles produced and the highest denomination struck for circulation. They are large and attractive with a high intrinsic value which appeals to the “gold bug.” They were struck during an extraordinary historic era (1850-1866), and have wonderful back stories. Many issues are available in collector grades and a number of issues can found in presentable grades for less than $3,500 per coin. At the same time, there are a number of rare to very rare dates which appeal to advanced collectors.

There is a host of ways in which to collect this series. I’d like to suggest a few that I have found interesting and add some practical suggestions from years of experience with assisting collectors in this series.

1. Collecting Type One Double Eagles as a Type Coin

Type collectors seek to obtain a representative example of a specific type or design. For Type One double eagles, a type collector would most likely focus on an issue such as an 1856-S or 1857-S from the S.S. Central America, or a non-shipwreck date such as the 1861. A nice SSCA coin can be purchased for $7,500-10,000, while a high-quality circulated 1861 currently is valued in the $4,000-5,000 range.

A type set could be made more interesting by expanding it to two coins: including a common date from the 1850’s and the 1860’s, the two decades in which this design was produced. The most common issues from the 1850’s are the 1851 and the 1852 and, thanks to the shipwrecks mentioned above, the 1856-S and the 1857-S. The two Philadelphia issues can be easily located in all circulated grades and a very presentable example will cost the collector $3,000-5,000. The 1861 is the most affordable Type One from the 1860’s, and the collector can either purchase a pleasing circulated example or an Uncirculated coin in the MS60 to MS62 range.

If you are taking the time to read this article (and are looking forward to the new double eagle website I mentioned above) you are likely to have enough interest in this series that you will be more involved with them than as mere type coins. But if you have decided to participate solely as a type collector, I suggest you spend a bit more money and buy a scarcer date. In my opinion, the issues which offer the biggest “bang for the buck” include the 1854 Small Date, 1855, 1856, 1857, and 1858.

2. Collecting Type One Double Eagles by Mint

Type One double eagles were struck at three mints: Philadelphia, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Some collectors focus on issues from one of these three mints and assemble complete sets of dates and major varieties.

The Philadelphia mint produced 17 collectable double eagles (this figure does not include the 1849 and the 1861 Paquet, but it does include the 1853/2 and the 1854 Large Date). This is not an easy set to complete in circulated grades. The five hardest issues to locate are the 1853/2, 1854 Large Date, 1859, 1862, and 1863. All five of the dates are scarce to very scarce in Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated, and all are rare to very rare in Uncirculated.

In Extremely Fine, this set should run at least in the $55,000-65,000 range, and more if the collector is picky and seeks choice EF45 coins with CAC stickers. An About Uncirculated set (with the five keys in the AU50 to AU53 range and the more common dates in the AU55 to AU58 range) should run in the $110,000-130,000 range, and more if the collector is picky and seeks choice coins with CAC stickers. An Uncirculated set is possible but it would require considerable patience and some of these issues (notably the 1853/2, 1854 Large Date, 1859, and 1862) are very rare and seldom offered for sale in Mint State. A collector can figure on spending at least $300,000 on an average quality set and considerably more if he wants the majority of his coins to grade higher than MS60 to MS61. An Uncirculated set with all the coins having CAC stickers is certainly possible but it might take many years—and a deep wallet—to assemble.

The New Orleans mint produced a dozen Type One double eagles between 1850 and 1861. Two of these (the 1851-O and the 1852-O) are common, two are moderately scarce (1850-O and 1853-O, three are very scarce to rare (1857-O, 1858-O and 1861-O), three are rare (1855-O, 1859-O and 1860-O), and two are extremely rare (1854-O and 1856-O). Many collectors are forced to skip the 1854-O and the 1856-O due to their extreme rarity and prohibitive prices. However, for those fortunate collectors with the means to acquire one or both, history has proven their worthiness as performing assets.

An Extremely Fine set of Type One New Orleans double eagles is the most realistic for most collectors. Excluding the 1854-O and 1856-O, this set costs at least $175,000-200,000. An About Uncirculated set of Type One New Orleans double eagles is extremely difficult to assemble but it can be completed with patience and a deep pocketbook in a three to five year window. To keep costs down, the collector might buy AU55 examples of the moderately scarce to scarce dates and AU50 to AU53 examples of the very scarce to rare issues. Such a set would cost at least $250,000-300,000+. AU50 to AU53 examples of the 1854-O and the 1856-O would add another $750,000-1,000,000. An AU set with all 12 coins having CAC stickers might be possible, but it would require working with a world-class expert as many of these dates have very low CAC populations.

Between 1854 and 1866, the San Francisco mint produced 14 Type One double eagles. This includes the 1861-S and the 1861-S Paquet reverse. With the exception of the 1861-S Paquet and the 1866-S No Motto, all are reasonably easy to locate in circulated grades. Before the discovery of the three shipwrecks cited above, assembling a high grade set of Type One San Francisco double eagles would have been nearly impossible. Today, it is far more realistic. It is still theoretically impossible to finish this set in Uncirculated, as no 1861-S Paquet reverse double eagles have been graded MS60 or higher by the two services as of the middle of 2014.

A complete set of Type One San Francisco double eagles in EF40 to AU50 costs at least $125,000, with around half of this amount dedicated to the 1861-S Paquet and the 1866-S No Motto. An AU55 to AU58 set costs at least $250,000; again with a significant amount of the cost focused on the two rarities. A set with all of the coins grading at least MS60 except for the Paquet (which would grade AU55 to AU58) would cost in excess of $600,000.

If I had to rank the popularity of the three mints as of the middle of 2014, I would list them as follows:

  1. New Orleans
  2. San Francisco
  3. Philadelphia

3. Collecting Type One Double Eagles by Year

A popular way to collect this series is to obtain one example from each year in which the Type One design was produced. In this case, such a set would consist of 17 coins.

In a Type One year set, it is advisable to select the most affordable issue produced during a specific year. For example, three mints struck double eagles in 1861: Philadelphia, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Most year sets include the 1861 Philadelphia as it is easier to obtain than the other issues and it can be found in comparatively high grades for a reasonable sum.

The most difficult (and least flexible) year is 1866. The Philadelphia mint’s production of double eagles in 1866 consisted exclusively of the new Type Two (or “With Motto”) design, while San Francisco produced a limited number of Type One coins before switching to the new design. The 1866-S Type One is exceedingly rare in Uncirculated and very rare in any grade higher than About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-53.

A complete year set can be assembled in Extremely Fine grades for around $75,000, with at least one-third of the cost going towards an 1866-S No Motto. A set with all of the coins in About Uncirculated can be assembled for $150,000 and up, with around half of the cost going towards the 1866-S. A set with all of the coins in Uncirculated would be very difficult to complete due to the rarity of the 1866-S. It would cost upwards of $425,000-450,000 to complete with, once again, a significant portion of the cost going towards the 1866-S.

4. Assembling a Complete Set of Type One Double Eagles

For some collectors, Type One double eagles become their primary focus and they seek to assemble a complete set. Such a set consists of every issue struck between 1850 and 1866 (not including the excessively rare 1861 Paquet reverse). Including the 1853/2, 1854 Large Date, and the 1861-S Paquet, there are a total of 44 issues.

Depending on a collector’s budget, the grades for a complete set of Type One double eagles will range from Extremely Fine-40 all the way up to Mint State-65. The more common issues are generally represented by coins in comparably higher grades while the rarities are represented by coins in slightly lower grades. The rarest issues in the set include the 1854-O, 1855-O, 1856-O, 1859-O, 1860-O, and 1861-S Paquet. The rarer issues tend to be very difficult to locate and the most available of these six coins are rarely available at prices lower than $40,000-50,000.

There are some practical guidelines which the collector assembling a complete set should follow. A complete set should be as well-matched as possible. The collector should also attempt to obtain coins with as much visual similarity as possible.

A complete set should not be “all over the map” as far as grades are concerned. It makes no sense to assemble a set which has VF30 coins alongside MS62’s

Many Type One collectors are guilty of “overbuying” the common dates and “underbuying” the rarities in order to save money; I feel this is a mistake. Instead of spending $50,000 on a high-grade example of a mundane date such as an 1851, buy a nice coin one grade lower for $15,000, and use the money you’ve saved to put towards a rarity. Conversely, instead of filling the 1854-O and 1856-O holes with “no grades” or problem coins, try to find the best examples of these you can possibly afford. A set of coins is judged on the quality of the rare issues, not by the common ones.

Don’t assemble a set of Type One double eagles with unrealistic expectations. A collector who has previously worked on more common sets may approach Type Ones with the idea that he can race through set in higher grades. Since a number of Type Ones are unknown in Uncirculated and extremely rare in the higher About Uncirculated grades, certain allowances have to be made. The collector must learn what is realistic for each issue. It isn’t realistic to find an 1856-O in Mint State-60. But it is realistic to find an 1856-S in this range or even higher.

In Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-50, a complete set of 44 Type One Liberty Head double eagles is going to cost a minimum of $1,000,000, and probably quite a bit more once the collector finishes upgrading coins he isn’t satisfied with. If the collector decides to eliminate the 1854-O and 1856-O, at least half of this expenditure will be eliminated. A set which included all the coins in About Uncirculated-50 to About Uncirculated-58 would cost at least $1,500,000. Eliminating the two ultra-rarities would again remove at least half of the cost. A set in which the majority of the coins grade Mint State-60 and above and the rarities grade at least About Uncirculated-55 is going to cost upwards of $2,000,000-2,500,000, and possibly quite a bit more.

5. A Shipwreck "Mini Set"

A number of shipwrecks containing Type One double eagles have been located since the late 1980’s. These are designated by PCGS and NGC, and they are extremely popular with collectors. A shipwreck mini-set most likely would contain just three coins and would be constructed as follows:

  1. S.S. Central America. This is the most famous of the three shipwrecks discussed here as it contains thousands of very high quality coins. Most collectors seek a nice Uncirculated 1857-S, typically grading MS63 to MS65. I have a few buying tips for such a coin. First, only buy a piece in the original gold foil holder. Second, be patient as there are thousands of potential coins for your set. Wait for a coin which appeals to you and look for one with bright, flashy surfaces which lack haze or cloudiness. Third, buy a coin with all the “bells and whistles.” By this, I mean look for a coin that has all its original packaging and which has been approved by CAC as well. Finally, don’t overpay. There are hundreds of auction price comparables for these coins, so you should be able to figure a smart price to pay with relative ease.
  2. S. S. Brother Jonathan. This shipwreck featured Civil War era San Francisco Type One double eagles. The coins tend to be a little less attractive than the S.S. Central America pieces and are harder to locate in the original packaging. The two dates which seem most plentiful from this shipwreck are the 1863-S and 1865-S. The buying tips I mentioned above mostly apply to these coins as well, except original packaging is non-existent.
  3. S. S. Republic. The third shipwreck in the set is the one which is least interesting to me as the quality of the coins tends to be less nice. That said, there are some interesting coins which come to market from time to time with this pedigree.

6. Collecting by Die Variety

For most Type One double eagles, a number of different obverse and reverse dies were used. As one die became worn or damaged, it was replaced by a new die. The different die combinations created various die varieties which range from significant to very minor.

The field of gold coin die variety collecting is fertile. Little has been written about the varieties of United States gold coins, and almost nothing has been written about the die varieties of Type One Liberty Head issues. A number of interesting and potentially rare die varieties exist. Many are discussed in my book(s) on Type One double eagles. Others wait to be discovered by sharp-eyed collectors.

In order to study double eagle die varieties, the collector should pay careful attention to date and mintmark placement and other more subtle die characteristics such as breaks and die scratches.

Collecting varieties of Type One double eagles has become more popular in the last decade, and part of this is attributable to the fact that some of the major varieties are now recognized by PCGS and NGC. In addition to the widely accepted varieties (1853/2 and 1854 Large Date), the following are often collected alongside “regular” coins:

  • 1852 Double Date
  • 1853 Repunched Date
  • 1854 Small Date, Doubled Date
  • 1855-S Small S mintmark
  • 1857-S Large S mintmark
  • 1859-S Double LIBERTY
  • 1865 Blundered date

7. A Civil War "Mini Set"

One of the most popular theme sets in the Type One series is the 11 or 12 coin Civil War set. This includes the following issues, all made during the Civil War years: 1861, 1861-O, 1861-S, 1861-S Paquet, 1862, 1862-S, 1863, 1863-S, 1864, 1864-S, 1865, and 1865-S.

Due to the fact that this set has multiple levels of demand, many of the double eagles from the Civil War have seen considerable increases in price.

There are some difficult issues in the Civil War set. The 1861-O is the only New Orleans double eagle from this period and it is extremely popular. The 1862 is the rarest Philadelphia double eagle from this period, followed by the 1863 and the 1864. The San Francisco issues are more available with the exception of the rare 1861-S Paquet. The price of this variety might cause some collectors to not include it in the set. This makes sense, given that a “normal reverse” 1861-S can be an acceptable substitute.

An 11 piece set in Extremely Fine grades should cost in the area of $80,000. Adding the Paquet reverse would make the set cost over $100,000.

An 11 piece set in About Uncirculated would be challenging but it is completable. It should cost at least $150,000 and could run quite a bit more if the collector seeks choice, original coins with CAC approval. Adding a nice AU55 Paquet will require around a $150,000 commitment.

This set could not be completed in Uncirculated as the Paquet doesn’t exist in this range. However, the rest of the coins do, and here are my suggestions for the best value grade for each date:

  • 1861: MS62 to MS63
  • 1861-O: MS60 (if available)
  • 1861-S: MS61 to MS62
  • 1862: MS60 to MS62
  • 1863: MS61 to MS62
  • 1863-S: MS62 to MS63
  • 1864: MS61 to MS62
  • 1864-S: MS61 to MS62
  • 1865: MS62 to MS63
  • 1865-S: MS62 to MS63

8. Collecting Proof Type One Double Eagles

A tiny number of Proof double eagles were struck prior to 1859. From 1859 to 1865, very small numbers were made. Fewer than 350 proofs were struck for the entire type, and fewer than 75 are known.

The rarity of these coins makes them very appealing to a small segment of wealthy collectors. It might be possible to assemble a complete date run of Proofs from 1859 to 1865. This would require patience, luck, and a very healthy coin budget.

Most of the Proof Type One double eagles which appear on the market are in the Proof-63 to Proof-64 range. Gems are exceedingly rare, and are generally offered for sale at the rate of maybe once per two or three years.

Do you buy rare gold coins?

Do you have coins to sell?

Would you like to have the world’s leading expert help you assemble a set of coins?

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

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 raregoldcoins.com or email me at dwn@ont.com with specific questions.

The Type One Double Eagle Market, An Update: Part One, Philadelphia

It's been a few years since I've written in depth about the Type One double eagle market. But in double eagle time "a few years" is equal to a considerable amount of time when compared to other less popular series. This is a changing, dynamic market which continues to impress me with its demand for coins and its ability to attract collectors with budgets ranging from medium to jumbo.

Let's take a look at the 18 Philadelphia issues and see what's happened to the market in the last three to five years, where it is headed and what my feelings are about the pros and cons of each issue. I'm going to focus on two grades in this article: AU58, due to the relative affordability of these coins versus Uncirculated examples and MS62, due to the fact that this is usually the "best available grade" for Philadelphia Type One issues.

Type One Double Eagle Book Now Available - Free

1850: This numismatically significant issue is the first double eagle from the Philadelphia mint. Many years ago, I strongly pushed this date and felt it was well undervalued. In 2013, I think it is actually sort of pricey in comparison to other comparable Type One issues, particularly in AU58 and higher grades.

The 1850 has been readily available of late in EF45 to AU55 grades and I wonder if some sort of hoard hasn't hit the market as I don't recall this issue being this easy to locate in the past. Two grades that I find interesting for this date are AU58 and MS62.

1850 $20.00 NGC MS62 CAC

Around three to five years ago, it was possible to buy a decent-looking 1850 double eagle in AU58 for $6,000-7,000. Today, the same coin will cost $8,000-10,000 and I think a really choice PCGS coin with CAC approval could bring $11,000+. To me, this seems like a lot of money for such a coin.

Three to five years ago, an MS62 1850 double eagle would be a $22,000-25,000 coin. Today, if you can even find one, an 1850 in this grade will run $32,500-35,000. Given the relative unavailability of this date in grades higher than this, a nice MS62 actually seems like better value than an AU58 (!)

I continue to buy this date but I am very selective. I avoid any 1850 which is not choice and original and tend to purchase coins which grade EF45 to AU50 (as good introductory pieces for new collectors) or great quality MS62's (for deep-pocketed date or type collectors).

1851: The 1851 is actually a harder coin to find than the 1850 but it doesn't get the recognition that its predecessor does. It remains very easy to find in grades up to AU55 but it has becomes harder to locate in AU58. As with nearly any non-shipwreck Type One, properly graded Mint State coins are rare.

Three to five years ago, it was possible to buy quantities of AU58 1851 double eagles for around $2,500 per coin. Today, so-so AU58's sell in the $4,000-4,250 range and nice CAC-quality piece can run as high as $5,000-5,500. A wholesome, original "slider" at five thousand bucks still seems to me to be comparatively good value and I will buy anyone one I see for my inventory.

1851 $20.00 NGC MS61

MS62 and finer examples of the 1851 have all but disappeared. None have sold at auction since November 2011 and I think a fresh, original PCGS example with CAC approval could bring $16,000 or more if offered today. Given that the market for this coin was in the $11,000-13,000 three to five years ago, I think this remains an excellent value.

1852: The 1852 is now probably the single most available Type One Philadelphia double eagle. It used to be similar in availability to the 1851 but I see it more often.

In Heritage's 8/12 sale, an auction record was set for this date when a PCGS MS64 with CAC approval brought a robust $82,250. What's really impressive about this price is the fact that the exact same coin sold for $35,650 in a Bowers and Merena auction for $35,650 in 9/08. Nice return on investment for a four year hold, no?

1852 $20.00 NGC AU58 CAC

AU58 examples of this date have shown the same price growth as described above for the 1851. You are now looking at $4,000-5,000 for an AU58 depending on quality (still a fair number, in my opinion) against a former value of $2,500-3,000 around three to five years ago. I'm still fine with buying these.

1853: While inevitably lumped with the 1851 and 1852, I find this date to be harder to locate than the 1852 but easier to locate than the 1851. It is clearly the rarest of the three in higher grades and it is nearly impossible to find above MS62.

1853 $20.00 NGC AU58

In AU58, the 1853 is currently selling in the $4,000-5,000 range as compared to $2,250-2,750 five years ago. An MS62 would bring $14,000-16,000 if available and this is not much more than what a comparable coin would have sold for five years ago. Given this fact, I'd personally look for a nice Uncirculated example, especially given the fact that this date is all but unknown in MS63 and above.

1853/"2": You'll note that I placed italics around the 2 in the date; PCGS does this as well and this is because many researchers question whether this variety is actually an overdate. I personally do not and here's why: the major diagnostic on this variety (a die dot below the RT in LIBERTY) is seen on at least one other obverse which is clearly not an overdate...or even a recut date for that matter.

1853/'2' $20.00 PCGS AU50 CAC

AU58 examples of this date may been relatively flat over the last three to five years although the last two or three that I have seen have garnered prices around $17,000; three to five years ago the same coins might have sold in the $13,000-15,000 range.

Despite this variety's low population in MS61, prices have stayed flat since 2005. In June 2010, a PCGS MS61 sold at auction for $34,500 while in February 2007, a coin in the same grade/same holder realized $37,950. To me, this is the market basically stating that $35,000 is a lot of money for a coin which might not even be an overdate. And I agree.

1854 Small Date: This is the more common of the two varieties of double eagle made at the Philadelphia mint in 1854. It is significantly scarcer than the 1851, 1852 or 1853.

1854 Small Date $20.00 NGC AU58

Nice AU58's used to be available with some degree of regularity but they have become harder to find, especially if they are CAC-quality. You are looking at a $4,500-5,500 coin, depending on holder and appearance. I think these are great values. Three to five years ago they were 2,500-3,000.

In MS62, this is an extremely scarce date and prices have remained surprisingly static. In the current market, an average quality MS62 is worth $15,000-17,500; not all that much more than the same coin would have sold for three to five years ago.

Time to interject an observation. For the most part, Type Ones from Philadelphia have performed really well over the last three to five years in AU58. They haven't done that well in MS62; a grade that represents true rarity for most of these issues. I think this has to do with the fact that 58 coins have traded with some regularity while 62's are rare enough that they don't trade often. This may continue to be the case in the future but I think the MS62 coins are a great investment for the collector with a large budget.

1854 Large Date: As recently as a decade ago, there was some question as to whether this variety would be accepted by serious collectors but it clearly has and today the 1854 Large Date is ranked as the third rarest Type One from this mint after the 1859 and the 1862.

The 1854 Large Date is virtually unknown in Uncirculated but it is offered for sale from time to time in AU58. An example in this grade now trades in the $20,000-25,000 range. Five years ago, the same coin might have fetched $16,000-18,000.

1854 Large Date $20.00 NGC AU55

I think this variety has a good amount of growth potential in the AU53 to AU55 range. Three to five years ago, a nice quality example might have been available for $7,000-9,000; today this coin is $9,000-11,000. But one must remember that the price spread between a 53 and a 58 is now close to 2.5x which means that the typical collector will shy away from the 58 and seek a nice 53.

1855: The 1855 and the three issues which follow it (1856, 1857 and 1858) are all what I would describe as "slightly scarce" issues. The 1856 is the rarest, followed by the 1855, 1858 and 1857. Of these four, the 1855 is by far the hardest to find in high grades.

Three to five years ago, the 1855 double eagle was not recognized as a scarce issue in AU58 and I can recall buying decent examples for $3,500. Today, an average quality AU58 will cost in excess of $5,000 and a PCGS/CAC example could bring over $6,000. In my opinion, these are still good values and I would buy everyone I could find.

1855 $20.00 PCGS MS61

In MS62, this date is extremely rare and none have sold at auction since early 2005. So, MS61 is about as nice as this date comes. In 2013, a nice quality 1855 in this grade would sell for $16,000-18,000+. Five years ago, this coin might only bring $10,000-12,000.. I would not be surprised to see a similar increase in price for MS61's over the next five years as this date is in strong demand.

1856: I'd sort of like to take credit for "discovering" this date but there were other people looking for nice quality 1856 double eagles as far back as a decade or two ago. It remains a very hard issue to find in the higher AU grades and a rare coin in Uncirculated. The population figure shown by PCGS seem to me to be inflated as there are 14 in MS61 and 8 in MS62 but far fewer auction records than one might assume for a date with a population as high as suggested by PCGS.

1856 $20.00 NGC AU58 CAC

A nice quality AU58 will cost in the $5,500-6,000 range and a PCGS coin with CAC approval could bring more. Five years ago, a high end 58 was worth around $4,000-4,500. Given how popular this date has become, it seems to me to be good value at current levels.

No nice Uncirculated 1856-P double eagle has sold at auction since a PCGS MS61 appeared in April 2011. Given the paucity of appearances and given the potentially strong demand for a nice piece if it became available, I'd be ready to pay a record-setting price for any 1856 double eagle graded MS61 or better should one become available.

1857: As I mentioned above, the 1857 is the most available of the 1855-1858 Philadelphia double eagles. It remains fairly affordable, even in higher grades, but it has performed well over the last five years.

1857 $20.00 NGC AU58 CAC

I have sold a number of 1857 double eagles in AU58 over the past few months and I can't recall having ever priced a PCGS/CAC example at more than $4,250-4,500. Five years ago, I would have priced a similar quality example for $2,500-3,000. I think this date remains a good value in properly graded AU58.

No 1857-P double eagle graded MS62 has sold at auction since early 2006 and I haven't handled one in close to three years. An MS61 is still worth less than $10,000 and I would personally have no problem recommending a nice MS61 at, say, $8,500 or $9,000 to a collector.

1858: This date seems to have become a bit more available in circulated grades than I recall it being three to five years ago. That said, nice AU58 coins are harder to locate than before and Mint State pieces are rarely offered any more.

The price performance seen for this date has actually been better than that for the 1855 and 1856, despite it being far less scarce. In today's market, a nice AU58 example will sell for $4,750-5,250. Five years ago, it was possible to find AU58's for $2,750-3,000.

1858 $20.00 NGC MS62, from the SS Republic

Remember the comments I made above on the population figures for the 1857 in MS61 and MS62? The same holds true for the 1858. The PCGS figures make this date appear to be somewhat available but it is actually almost never offered. No MS62's have been sold since 2005 and just a handful of MS61's. An average quality MS61, if available, would sell in the $13,000-16,000 range; five years ago it would bring $9,000-11,000. For the money, I'd personally rather have a nice 1855 or 1856.

1859: This is my favorite sleeper date in the Philadelphia Type One series and I have watched demand for this issue soar in the last few years. Despite significant price increases, I still think a nice mid-range AU 1859 is a good value.

In AU55, an 1859 double eagle is a $10,000 coin, give or take a few bucks. This isn't actually that much more than this date was bringing in this grade five years ago. The difference is that I could sell ten of these in AU55 for $10,000 today; five years ago this would have been a big stretch for most collectors.

1859 $20.00 PCGS AU58

I just set a record price for the 1859 in AU58 when I paid $23,500 for a PCGS/CAC AU58 in the March 2013 Stacks Bowers auction. This was by far the best AU58 I'd seen and I though the coin had better eye appeal than most of the MS60 to MS61's of this date. An average quality AU58 would sell for $15,000 or so today; five years ago it might bring $11,000-13,000 to a savvy collector.

I still love this date and I will continue to support it at higher price points.

1860: This date has performed well in AU58. Today, a nice example will sell for $3,750-4,250. Five years ago, you could find similar quality pieces for $2,750-3,000.

1860 $20.00 NGC AU58 CAC

In MS62, the 1860 remains a very scarce date although it is more available than the 1855-1858 issues. If you can find one, an MS62 is going to cost $10,000-12,000. Five years ago, this would have been an $8,000-9,000 coin.

1861: Before the SSCA shipwreck made the 1857-S so common, the 1861 was the most available Type One from any mint. It remains available in AU58 but it seems to have come one of those "when you really need one you can't find them" issues.

1861 $20.00 NGC AU58 CAC

Five years ago, you could find nice AU58's for $2,000-2,500 and they weren't easy to sell. Today, these coins are sold to a more enthusiastic Type One market and to Civil War date collectors for $3,500-4,000. I don't necessarily love the value of these at $4,000 a pop but hats off to the smart collectors who put these away at $2,250.

This date hasn't done as well in MS62 but it has certainly appreciated in the last three to five years. Today, it is a $7,000-9,000 coin. Five years ago it was a $5,000-6,000 coin. While I don't love the value of an AU58 at $4,000 I really think a properly graded MS61 at, say $8,000 seems like a good deal.

1862: This remains the rarest Type One from this mint and the level of demand for the 1862 has soared. I used to handle one every month or two; now I'm lucky to buy one or two each years.

1862 $20.00 NGC AU58

As you might expect, this date has performed really well over the last few years. If you want to own a nice AU55, you are going to have to step up and pay in the $17,500-20,000 range. Five years ago, I was still buying this date in AU55 for $10,000-12,500. AU58's have risen in price to $25,000; five years ago if I paid $17,500 for one most people would have thought I was crazy.

With no Uncirculated examples having sold at auction since December 2009 (and whoever bought this coin for $32,200 should take a bow because you ripped it...) I shudder to think what a nice, fresh MS62 would bring today. Loved this date ten years ago, love it today.

1863: After some nice 1863 double eagles were found in the SS Republic shipwreck, I though the price of this date would get wrecked. Wrong. The 1863, which remains a scarce, popular Civil war issue, has done very well in the last few years.

1863 $20.00 PCGS AU58

I've handled three nice AU58 1863 double eagles in the last year and my average cost has been around $15,000 each. Five years ago, I was able to buy comparable examples for $11,000-12,000.

Collecting Type 1 Double Eagles

The 1863 has remained strangely unavailable in MS62 and higher grades. For even the most advanced collector, a nice MS61 would be a great find. If one were to become available, I think it would bring at least $32,500-35,000. Five years ago, an 1863 in MS61 was probably a $25,000 coin.

1864: The 1864 is more available than the 1862 and 1863 Philly issues but far more scarce than the 1865. I have some serious questions about the PCGS/NGC population figures for higher grade coins as this date does not seem to appear at auction with the frequency that one might expect. As an example, PCGS shows that 15 have been graded in MS61 but none have appeared since June 2008.

1864 $20.00 PCGS MS61

This date seems a little pricey to me in AU58 at its current value of $7,500-8,500+ but a little research reveals that pieces were bringing $6,000-7,000 at auction as far back as 2006.

Uncirculated examples of this date have no recent records. A small group of nice MS62 from the S.S. Republic sold for $25,000+ in April 2005 and it would be interesting to see what they would fetch today.

1865: This is a date which was clearly affected by the discovery of numerous nice, high grade pieces in the S.S. Republic. Five years ago, high grade 1865 double eagles were virtually unknown; in the last year I have owned at least a half dozen grading MS62 to MS64.

1865 $20.00 NGC MS64

In AU58, the price performance of this date has not been impacted as much as I would have expected. Today, a nice AU58 1865 trades in the $4,500-5,500 range. Five years ago, the same coin was trading for $2,500-3,000.

Before I did some price research for this article, I expected that levels had dropped on MS62's of this date due to the many newly graded pieces which have entered the market. This hasn't been the case. Today, an MS62 sells for $15,000-17,000. Five years ago, a similar coin would have brought in the area of $12,000-14,000.

This is actually one of the few Type One dates I'd caution buyers against in MS62. The current NGC population is 57 in this grade with 211 higher (!) and, for the money, I'd rather have a  date like an 1857 or an 1858 in MS61 to MS62.

The overall state of the market for Philadelphia Type One double eagles is better in early 2013 than at nearly any point which I can recall. Prices have shown a nice amount of appreciation, the number of new collectors has increased and the rosier economic picture means that people are less hesitant to buy expensive coins than they might have been in 2008-2009. Despite this, I think a compelling point can be made for calling many of the Philadelphia issues undervalued in nearly all grades, especially AU58 and MS62.

Do you want more information on Type One double eagles? I would be happy to answer your specific questions, and maybe even sell you a coin or two. Contact me via email at dwn@ont.com.

 

 

Major Varieties of Type One Liberty Head Double Eagles

     The true test of popularity for a series is when collectors begin to focus on varieties within the series rather than just dates. Some series, like Capped Bust half dollars, are actually more avidly collected by variety than they are by date. As a rule, gold coins are collected by date, not variety. This is due to the fact of the high entry cost per coin for most gold issues and the fact that many series of gold coins do not have interesting varieties.      Even though Type One Liberty Head double eagles are an expensive type with a number of very rare and/or expensive individual issues, there are a decent number of individuals who have begun to either specialize in varieties or who have decided to add certain varieties to their date collections.

     What are the major varieties of Type One Liberty Head double eagle? How rare are they and how significant are they? In this article, I'm going to focus on the varieties that I think should be included in any collection of Type Ones and offer my insights into them.

     1852/1852:  The 1852 is among the most common issues in the entire Type One series with a mintage of over 2 million coins. There are a few minor varieties and one obvious one: the Repunched Date. On this variety, the date was first punched too high and all four of the digits are doubled at the top. What makes this variety fairly easy to recognize even with the naked eye is the fact that this doubling has made the date quite heavy.

    I would say that around one out of every 25-50 1852 double eagles that I see is the 1852/1852. It is obvious enough that it can be seen on comparatively low grade coins. I regard it as being very collectible and it seems to have a current premium of around 25-50% above a common date in circulated grades; in Uncirculated it is very rare.

     Most of the 1852/1852 double eagles that I have seen grade in the EF45-AU53 range. This variety is very scarce in properly graded AU55 and rare in AU58. It is very rare in Uncirculated with probably fewer than ten known; the best I have seen are a pair of MS61's.

     Both NGC and PCGS recognize this variety. The population statistics at both services are very low due to it having been recognized for a comparatively brief amount of time.

     Catalog Numbers:  Breen 7152, FS-301

     Collectability: **** (four stars out of 5)

 

     1853/2:  There are numerous interesting varieties seen on the 1853 double eagle. This include varieties with a repunched 1, a repunched 3 and a blundered date with traces of an erroneous 3 between the 53 . But the variety that is the best known and which is the most sought-after by collectors is the 1853/2 overdate.

     In my opinion, this is a controversial variety. Both PCGS and NGC recognize it but designate it as an 1853/'2' which shows that they are not totally convinxced it is an true overdate. In my opinion, its status remains debatable. The two lines in the lower loop of the 3, ostensibly from an effaced 2, don't convincingly match the former digit. Also, the major diagnostic of this variety, a dot below the R in LIBERTY, is sometimes seen on normal date 1853 double eagles with absolutely no trace of the supposed overdate.

     Whatever the true status of this variety is, it has been collected along with the regular issues since the 1970's and high grade examples have commanded strong prices since the late 1980's/early 1990's. The current  price record for this variety is $48,875 for a PCGS MS61 that was sold by Heritage in their 2005 ANA auction.

     The 1853/2 double eagle is probably overvalued in comparison to the other varieties on this list. It is interesting to note that its price levels did not drop after both NGC and PCGS changed its designation to 1853/'2' a few years ago. My thought at the time was that it would hurt this variety's creditability given the fact that the services were basically implying that they doubted its veracity.

     Catalog Numbers:  Breen 7162, FS-301 (previously FS-008)

     Collectability:  ***1/2* (three and a half stars out of five)

 

     1854/184 Repunched Small Date:  The 1854 double eagle is seen with a Small Date and a Large Date (for more information on this variety, see below). The Small Date is the more common of the two but there is an interesting repunched date variety that is beginning to gain traction with Type One double eagle collectors. On this variety, the tops of the 1 and the 54 are noticeably repunched at their tops while the 8 is not. On early die state examples of this variety, the repunching can be seen with the naked eye.

     When compared with the 1852 Repunched Date, the 1854/154 seems to be the scarcer of the two, especially in higher grades. It is seen most often in the EF40-AU50 range and it is rare in AU55 and above. I have seen just a few Uncirculated examples of which the best was a single NGC MS61. Others probably exist in Uncirculated but these have not yet been designated by NGC. PCGS does not recognize this variety (yet) while NGC does.

     This is a good variety for the sharp-eyed collector to try and cherrypick. It is hard to figure out accurate values for lower grade coins but examples in AU50 and above already command premiums over normal Small Dates and I would expect this premium to increase as this variety becomes better known.

     Catalog Numbers:  Breen 7167,  FS VP-001

     Collectability:  *** (three stars out of five)

 

     1854 Large Date:  No variety of Type One double eagle has increasded in popularity or price more in the last decade than the 1854 Large Date. After being more or less unknown for decades, this variety went on collector's radar screens in the 1980's and since the early 1990's it has at least doubled--if not tripled--in value.

     The Large Date used a silver dollar logotype and it is appreciably bigger than the more often-seen Small Date. My guess is that it is at least six to eight times more scarce than the Large date. As recently as five years ago, I was still able to find undesignated Large Date coins in third-party holders (or raw) but at this point, it has become extremely hard (and lucrative!) to cherrypick examples. This variety is seen most often in EF45 to AU53 grades. It is very scarce in AU55 and rare in properly graded AU58. Interestingly, the few nice AU's I have seen have a "Euro" appearance and likely were found overseas. The finest known is an NGC MS64 that was last sold as B+M 9/08: 831 where it brought a record $96,600.

     The 1854 Large Date is designated by both PCGS and NGC. The population figures at both services are misleading as this has only been attributed for a few years. This is especially true at PCGS where the variety is newer than at NGC.

     The 1854 Large Date is widely accepted and it is an integral part of the Type One set. While I do not think it will continue to show the rise in value that it has seen over the last decade to decade and a half, I d feel that it is a savvy purchase for the advanced collector, particularly in AU50 and above.

     Catalog Numbers:  Breen 7168

     Collectability:  ***** (five stars out of five)

 

     1856-S and 1857-S Varieties:   After the discovery of the S.S. Central America, a number of varieties were discovered for the 1856-S and 1857-S double eagles. These are mostly positional and are very minor in nature. The SSCA coins that are designated by PCGS do not sell for any premium over other 1856-S and 1857-S double eagles from this source.

     There are a few varieties, though, that are worth a short mention.

     The 1856-S is known with a sharply double punched 56 in the date (Breen 7184) that can be seen with light magnification. In my experience, this is a scarce variety in higher grades but it has little collector premium.

     The 1857-S is known with a Medium S mintmark and a Large S mintmark. Before the discovery of the SSCA hoard, the Large S was considered to be very rare in higher grades but it is now available. Ironically, PCGS does not use this designation and instead focused on very minor varieties such as the "spiked shield," etc.

     Catalog Numbers:  1856-S Repunched 56 (Breen 7184), 1857-S Medium S (Breen 7187), 1857-S Large S (Breen 7189).

     Collectability:  ** (two stars out of five)

 

     1859-S Double Die Obverse:  This variety shows clear doubling on the BERTY in LIBERTY. This doubling is mostly on the lower portions of the letters and it is farily easy to see with light magnification.

     I remember having an interesting "debate" with a very savvy double eagle collector a few years ago about this variety. He claimed it was reasonably common while I believed it was very scarce to rare. Sine then, I have examined close to 100 examples of this date and have not seen more than four or five of the Double Liberty variety. This may be because other people are looking for them as well but it is my belief that this is a very hard coin to find.

     NGC recognizes this variety (and has for a few years) while PCGS only just started recognizing it. This means that at both services the number graded are unrealistically low and collectors shouldn't think that this variety has the same level of rarity as an issue like the 1854-O or the 1856-O.

     The 1859-S Double Die Obverse (also known as the Double Liberty) is seen most often in the EF40 to AU50 range. It is rare in AU55 and very rare in AU58. I have only seen two or three in Uncirculated and none better than MS61. NGC has graded just a single coin in Uncirculated (an MS60) which I sold to a specialist collector around three or four years ago.

     My guess is that this variety will become a key addition to the Type One set as the years go forward. Once it is better recognized and people are certain what sort of premium they must pay for it, its popularity will increase.

     Catalog Numbers:  Breen 7199, FS-101.

     Collectability:  *** (three stars out of five)

 

     1861-S Paquet Reverse:   Early in the life of the Type One design, it was determined that it was hard to strike and it did not always wear properly. Nothing was done about this until 1859-1860 when the assistant Mint Engraver Anthony Paquet produced a new reverse with tall, narrow letters. Coins were produced early in 1861 at the Philadelphia mint but it was quickly determined that this design was faulty due to the fact that the inner border was too narrow which allowed the surfaces to easily abrade. Coinage at Philadelphia was quickly stopped but by the time this information reached the San Francisco mint, close to 20,000 1861-S double eagles with the Paquet Reverse had been produced.

     The 1861-S Paquet reverse was mostly unknown until the early 1950's when examples were found in Europe. Today there an estimated 100-125 known with most in the EF40 to AU50 range. The best that I have seen are two or three that I grade AU58; most of the coins in AU55 and AU58 holders, in my opinion, are overgraded. The current auction record is $184,000 for an NGC AU58 sold as Lot 5039 in Heritage's 1/12 auction. I know of at least two that have sold for over $200,000 via private treaty.

     Values for this issue increased dramatically during the late 1990's and early 2000's; to the point where the average quality example was probably overvalued. In 2012, I see very few offered for sale and I believe that a nice AU is worth at least what it was during the strong mafrket of 2007-2008, if not even more.

     The 1861-S Paquet reverse double eagle has been accepted as an integral member of the Type One set since the early 1960's and it will continue to be a highly prized issue. It is the rarest double eagle of any date or type from the San Francisco mint and I expect that the current low range of $40,000-50,000 for a presentable example is coming to an end. In the not-so-distant future, expect to pay in the $60,000-80,000+ range for the "right" coin.

     Catalog Numbers:   Breen 7205, Breen 7206

     Collectability:  ***** (five stars out of five)

 

     1863-S Mintmark Varieties:  Other than a minor date repunching variety on the 1862-S, there aren't many other post-Paquet varieties in the Type One series worth a mention. Probably the most interesting are the two mintmark varieties seen on the 1863-S.

     The more common 1863-S double eagle has a Medium mintmark, as on the reverse used in both 1861 and 1862. The more common has a Small mintmark, as seen on the 1864-S and 1865-S reverses.

     While somewhat interesting, I doubt if minor varieties such as these will ever catch on with Type One double eagle collectors.

     Catalog Numbers:  Breen 7126 (Medium S), Breen 7127 (Small S)

     Collectability:  * (one star out of five)

     I expect the varieties listed above that are four stars or higher to have significantly increased demand over the next decade. I don't expect any other varieties to have such widespread appeal but you never know; the blessing of PCGS or NGC would go a long way in creating collector demand.

     For more information about Liberty Head double eagles, please feel free to contact me directly ar dwn@ont.com.

Good Values in Type Three Liberty Head Double Eagles

If you collect rare United States gold coins, you'll notice that certain series have extremely compressed values. As an example, a common date Dahlonega half eagle grades EF45 might trade in the $2,300-2,600 range while the same date in AU50 often sells for a small premium; maybe as low as 10-15%. The reason for this is pretty simple. The market has decided that there is not much of an aesthetic difference between a Dahlonega half eagle in EF45 and one in AU50 and the formerly high price premium between the two grades is no longer merited. But there are some series where one small point on the grading scale can make a significant financial difference. One of these is Type Three double eagles.

The Type Three double eagle series dates from 1877 through the adoption of the new St. Gaudens designs in 1907. Type Three double eagles range from ultra-common to ultra-rare and they have proven to be quite popular with collectors over the last decade.

The grade distribution for most Type Three double eagles dictates their current rarity. By this, I mean that many dates were extensively melted and the surviving coins tend to have been shipped loose in bags to overseas sources. There are many Type Threes that are virtually unknown in grades below AU55 and virtually unknown in grades above MS63. When available, they tend to be heavily abraded due to poor handling and grade in the MS60 to MS61 range.

The exact point on the grading scale where availability and non-availability in this series tends to intersect is at MS63. There are numerous Type Threes that are fairly scarce in properly graded MS62 but are still affordable and, in my opinion, are very good values. These same coins might double, triple or even quadruple in price at the next grade up and I question the value of these MS63 coins. This is especially true when a nice, high end MS62 is often virtually indistinguishable from a typical quality MS63.

There are a number of "secret" and "not-so-secret" dates in the Type Three series that I think make for interesting analysis. Let's look at a few of these and determine what the best grade is for the collector seeking good value.

1. 1877-S There were three different Liberty Head double eagles issued in 1877 and the 1877-S is the most common of these. It is a numismatically significant date as it is the first San Francisco Type Three double eagle but it is very common in the lowest Uncirculated grades. As I was doing some basic research for this blog, I was very surprised to see the third-party population figures for MS62 examples of this date: 258 graded as such at PCGS and 163 at NGC. Even factoring in extensive resubmissions, this is still well over 100 examples graded MS62 between the two services.

In MS62, the 1877-S is worth around $4,000-5,000. This seems like a fairly high number for a coin that is more available than I would have thought but most 1877-S double eagles in MS62 are very low end. CAC has only approved four (with none higher) and this low number doesn't surprise me. I'd have to say that a choice, minimally abraded MS62 with CAC approval is pretty good value at, say, $4,500-5,000.

In MS63, this date is conditionally rare. PCGS has graded twenty five (with three better) while NGC shows only five with one better. An average quality MS63 is worth around $15,000 while a choice, high end piece could bring close to $20,000 at auction; more if it were CAC approved. Is this issue good value in MS63? I would have to say no, especially if the coin in question looks like the few slabbed MS63's that I've seen in recent years. My advice to the collector would be to patiently wait for a nice MS62 and pay a premium of as much as 10-15% if the coin has above-average luster and surfaces.

2. 1879 This is one of the more interesting years, numismatically, for Type Three double eagles. Four different issues were struck. The 1879-O is the rarest, followed by the 1879-CC. The 1879-P and 1879-S are condition rarities with similar overall profiles.

The 1879 is most often seen in AU55 to MS60 grades and it is very scarce in properly graded MS61. Nice MS62's are rare. PCGS shows a population of forty-five in this grade with twenty-one finer while NGC's figures are 32 with 19 finer. Only two MS62's have received CAC approval. In MS62, this coin has a current value of $4,500-5,000. This seems to me to be a great value in comparison to the above-referenced 1877-S.

In MS63 and higher grades, the 1879 is very rare. The combined PCGS/NGC population is twenty-five in this grade with fifteen finer. Factoring in resubmissions, this means there are perhaps a dozen known in MS63 or above. In the current market, such a coin would sell for $15,000 to $20,000. Do I think an MS63 is worth three to four times more than an MS62? Not really. Would I advise a collector to buy an MS63 example of this date? Doubtful, unless he was putting together a finest known/Condition Census set and he "had" to have a coin that graded at least MS63.

3. 1889. This date differs from the 1877-S and 1879 in that it isn't a total condition rarity. It has a reasonably low original mintage of 44,111 business strikes; a fraction of the number made for the 1877-S and the 1879.

This is an issue that didn't see a lot of circulation and it is seldom encountered in AU grades. But it is fairly easy to locate in MS60 and MS61. MS62 coins have a relatively high population (over 300 at PCGS and NGC combined) but many of the examples that I see in MS62 holders are not really all that special. This is evidenced by the fact that only five coins (as of 5/12) have received approval at CAC. An MS62 example of the 1889 can currently be purchased for $3,000-3,500.

MS63 and higher examples are another story. PCGS has graded 19 in MS63 with none better while NGC shows five in this grade with none better. We can assume the PCGS population is inflated and, in all likelihood, the number of properly graded MS63 coins is around six to eight. The value of this date in MS63 is in the $12,500-15,000 range. Is this is a good value?

In this case, I think that a really nice CAC-quality 1889 $20.00 in MS63 might be a pretty good deal at around $13,500. Here's my thought process. First of all, there are no coins currently graded higher than MS63. Secondly, with a reasonably low mintage figure you probably don't have to worry about extensive hoards being found. Thirdly, it is common in MS62 but few of the coins in this grade seem to be nice enough to upgrade, someday, to MS63. This makes it a reasonably "safe" condition rarity although, as always, there is some risk involved with a coin like this.

As you can see from the examples above, the "best value grade" for all these dates--and for many Type Three double eagles--is MS62. If you can find examples of these dates in high end CAC-quality MS62, at a fraction of the MS63 price, it is hard to argue with these levels of value.

20 Interesting, Undervalued U.S. Gold Coins You Can Buy for Less Than $5,000

In a recent blog, I mentioned the fact that the entry level to become a buyer of interesting United States gold coins was a much lower barrier than many new collectors realize. I mentioned some general issues and types that could be found in the $1,000-2,500 range that I felt were interesting and good values. I'd like to expand this idea and discuss 20 specific rare coins that can be purchased for $5,000 or less. 1. 1865 Gold Dollar. Unlike the low mintage gold dollars from the 1880's, this Civil War issue was actually used in commerce. Only 3,700 business strikes were produced and just a few hundred examples are known today. I wouldn't exactly call this issue "rare" but it is certainly not one that you are going to be able to go to a national-caliber coin show and find more than one or two; if that.

For a collector with a $5,000 per coin budget, you can buy a really nice 1865 gold dollar. As an example, Heritage 1/11: 6672, graded MS61 by NGC, brought a reasonable $3,450. I sold a solid PCGS AU58 last year as an "E-Special" to raregoldcoins.com preferred clients for $1,500.

2. 1872 Gold Dollar. The 1872 is another low mintage issue but it doesn't receive the attention that the 1865 does since it isn't a Civil War issue. Only 3,500 were struck and I doubt if more than 200 or so are known; most in the AU53 to MS61 range.

This date remains very affordable in the lower Uncirculated grades as witnessed by the recent sale of an NGC MS62 for $1,265 in the Heritage June 2011 auction. Interestingly, only one example better than MS64 has sold at auction since January 2009 (an MS67) yet a nice quality MS64 should be available, with some searching, for around $3,000.

3. 1839 Quarter Eagle. This date has been a favorite of mine for years. It is by far the rarest Philadelphia Classic Head quarter eagle. Interestingly, it has fewer appearances at auction over the last two decades than the celebrated 1838-C and 1839-D and it might actually be a rarer issue than these two first-year branch mint emissions.

Despite the scarcity of the 1839, it remains a good value for the collector with a $5,000 and lower budget. An AU50 is currently worth Around $2,500-3,000 while an AU55 goes for $3,500-4,000 and an AU58 should sell for $4,500-5,000. Be aware of the fact that this is an extremely hard date to find with natural color and surfaces and a choice, high piece is worth as much as a 50% premium over a typical example.

4. 1845-O Quarter Eagle. This is another long-time favorite of mine. The 1845-O is by far the scarcest quarter eagle from New Orleans and it has an original mintage of just 4,000. This date has been recognized as a rarity in higher grades and a nice AU coin is going to be out of reach for the collector with a $5,000 budget. But that doesn't mean that a presentable example is out of the question.

I sold a nice NGC VF25 example of this date a few months ago for around $1,500. Heritage 3/11: 4631, graded EF40 by PCGS, sold for $4,025 and as far as I can tell this seems to be a record price for an EF40 that was clearly not going to upgrade; others have sold in this grade for $2,500-3,000 in the last few years. I can see EF's eclipsing the $5,000 mark in the near-future so this is one undervalued date that might not be so undervalued the next time I write an article of this sort!

5. 1867 Quarter Eagle. You'd think that an issue with a total PCGS population of just twenty-nine in all grades (that's the exact same number, by the way, as the 1856-D quarter eagle; an issue that's worth more than 10x an 1867 in AU) would be better recognized as a scarcity. Yet the 1867 continues to languish and it remains an affordable issue.

Trends for the 1867 quarter eagle is $1,900 in AU55 and $3,000 in AU58 and, when available, examples tend to sell for a discount in relation to these numbers. If just a few people started to collect Liberty Head quarter eagles by date (or if one or two people began to haord 1867 quarter eagles) I could see the price of this issue doubling nearly overnight.

6. 1883 Quarter Eagle. The date run of quarter eagles produced between 1877 and 1895 contains many low mintage issues and a number of these are affordable, scarce and undervalued. I probably could have chosen four or five of them for this article but decided to focus on the 1883, an issue that I like very much.

Just 1,920 business strikes were made and my best estimate is that around 100-125 are known today. I have never personally seen an 1883 quarter eagle that graded higher than MS62 and only one or two at that level. The last Uncirculated piece to sell was an NGC MS61 that brought $4,313 in the Heritage 3/11 auction. Despite this coin obvious rarity, you can still buy a nice AU in the $2,000-3,000 range and MS61 examples have sold in the $3,500-4,500 during the last few years.

7. 1867 Three Dollars. In circulated grades, the 1867 doesn't sell for all that much of a premium over some reasonably common dates of this design. I have found the 1867 to be a challenging coin to locate and it appears for sale less often than such heralded issues as the 1864, 1870, 1871 and 1872. There were 2,600 struck and most are seen in the AU grades.

For $3,000 to $4,000 you can purchase an attractive AU5 to AU58 1867 Three Dollar gold piece. I would personally look for a really choice AU58 with original color and choice surfaces. These pieces do exist although they are hard to find.

8. 1884 Three Dollar. I've been a big fan of the low mintage Three Dollar gold pieces from the 1880's for years. The 1884 is not the rarest issue of this group (that honor belongs to the 1881) but it is very underrated, especially in higher grades.

There were exactly 1,000 business strikes produced. Unlike many of the low mintage Threes of this era, the 1884 is nearly impossible to find in grades above MS63. In Uncirculated, this date is going to be out of the price range for the sub-$5,000 coin buyer but I have sold at least two or three nice AU58's for less than $4,250 in the last two years.

9. 1842 Large Letters and Small Letters Half Eagle(s). There are a number of No Motto half eagles that are great values for less than $5,000 and both varieties of half eagle dated 1842 rank close to the top. The Large Letters is the scarcer of the two but both are extremely hard to locate.

Every year at auction, I only see maybe one or two decent 1842 half eagles yet EF coins continue to sell in the $2,000-2,500 range while AU's bring around $4,000-5,000 depending on quality. I very rarely see examples that are choice and original and I personally think a high end coin, even in VF grades is worth a significant premium.

10. 1842-O Half Eagle. I could have put at least three (if not four) New Orleans half eagles in this article. Despite a big boost in popularity in the last few years, nice EF No Motto examples of the scarcer date New Orleans half eagles remain within reach of most collectors.

The 1842-O is the second rarest half eagle from this mint. Probably no more than 50-75 are known from a mintage of 16,400. I just sold a very presentable VF example for around $1,500. Last summer, a pair of PCGS EF45's sold at auction for $3,738 and $3,881 respectively. I think a really nice EF45 coin can still be bought for less than $5,000 and I think it's one of the single best values in this group of twenty: a rare coin, a coin that's in demand and an issue that becomes extremely pricey as the grade scale is increased.

11. Undervalued Dahlonega Half Eagles. Even though this series is avidly collected by date, there are at least three Dahlonega half eagles that I can think of that carry virtually no premium in VF and EF grades yet are two or three times rarer than the "common" dates of this type. The ones that come to mind are the 1846-D Normal Mintmark, the 1848-D and the 1851-D.

The most recent Coin World Trends values the common date 1853-D and 1854-D at $3,000 in EF45. In the same grade, the 1846-D Normal Mintmark is valued at $2,750, the 1848-D at $2,750 as well and the 1851-D at $3,000. At common date valuations, these three issues are extremely good buys for the collector. A little hint: the 1848-D half eagle is really rare in EF with a sharp strike and natural color. At a price anywhere near its current Trends value, it is a really exceptional deal.

12. 1850 Half Eagle. This is the rarest half eagle struck at the Philadelphia mint between 1843 and 1862 (with the possible exception of the 1859 which is another really undervalued issue). Yet the last two I've sold in AU58 (both were nice coins, by the way) fetched around $1,500 each.

The 1850 half eagle is actually a scarcer coin in AU grades than its Charlotte and Dahlonega counterparts; at around a quarter of the price. Yes, I know the C+D mint issues are around four times more popular but the 1850 half eagle still seems like a great value.

13. San Francisco Half Eagles, 1858-1867. If you like truly rare coins and have $2,500-$5,000 to spend on each purchase, this subgroup would make for a very interesting date run. You can't buy the 1864-S in any grade without spending at least $10,000+ but the other nine dates will be within your budget as long as you focus on VF and EF grades.

Most of these issues have surviving populations of less than 100 coins and nearly all become very rare and very expensive in AU50 and higher. Yet they remain affordable in VF and EF grades. They certainly aren't plentiful; as an example, PCGS has only graded twenty-five examples of the 1862-S in EF and lower grades. Factoring in resubmissions and ugly coins, this probably equates to no more than fifteen or so pieces. Rare, yes, but not so much so that you can't find one without some patience. And at $3,000-4,000 for a nice VF+ example, a hard coin not to like!

14. Slider No Motto Liberty Head Eagles. If I were collecting gold coins and had a $2,500-5,000 per coin budget I'd give very serious thought to assembling a date run of No Motto Philadelphia eagles from the 1840's and the 1850's.

With the exception of a few dates (the 1844-1846 and 1858), most of these issues can be found in AU58 in this price range. The more common dates can be found for less than $1,500. Given the fact that a very common With Motto issue has a "basal value" of around $750-850 in slider grades, the fact that you can buy a coin like, say, an 1852 $10 in AU58 for around $1,500 seems like great value to me.

15. 1862-1877 Liberty Head eagles. As long as you are patient and willing to buy coins in the VF-EF range, there are some great values in the eagles series. Almost every date struck between 1862 and 1877 at the Philadelphia and San Francisco mints was melted in abundance and this fact, coupled with low original mintages in many cases means rare dates. In most cases, we're talking about 75-100 known.

It would be fun to collect coins like this in conjunction with similarly dated half eagles. In the eagle series, your $2,500 per coin expenditure isn't going to go very far so it might be wise to budget closer to $5,000 per coin. At this level there are plenty of interesting coins.

16. "Better Date" Liberty Eagles, 1880-1907. One of the consequences of the current weakness in the generic gold market is the near-total evaporation of the Market Premium Factor for certain semi-scarce to scarce eagles produced in the 1880's, 1890's and early 1900's.

Let me give you an example. Currently, a generic MS62 Liberty eagle is worth around $850. For $900-$1,100 you can buy coins like an 1882-S or an 1889-S in this grade that are many times scarcer than a common date. Will the market premium factor that these issues once had ever return? I think they will, to a degree. But in the mean time, it's kind of fun to buy conditionally scarce coins for little or no premium.

17. 1889 Eagle. I couldn't mention the late dates of this denomination without specifically discussing the rare 1889. You can make the case that a number of the issues from the 1880's and 1890's are scarce solely based on grade but not the 1889; this is a genuinely scarce coin in all grades with an original mintage of just 4,440.

An About Uncirculated 1889 eagle has a current market value of around $2,000. In Uncirculated, you should expect to spend around $4,000 or more for an MS60. It should be noted that this date almost never comes with good eye appeal so, in this case, a clean(ish) AU55 might actually make more sense than an abraded MS60 to MS61.

18. 1854 through 1858 Philadelphia Double Eagles. No, I don't own rolls of these and am not constantly self-promoting them. But as a dealer who sells alot of Type One double eagles, I'm always looking out for the 1854 Large Date, 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1858 in nice AU53 to AU58.

My experience has shown me that these coins are very popular, very liquid and still within the budget constraints of most collectors. I find that many San Francisco Type One double eagles are not well struck and have appearance issues. These five Philadelphia issues tend to be better struck and have better eye appeal than their San Francisco counterparts.

19. 1869, 1870 and 1871 Double Eagles. These three Type Two Philadelphia double eagles remain affordable in EF and AU grades yet they are scarce and desirable issues.

Of the three, I personally like the 1871 the most but all are hard to find in the higher AU grades. You are looking at around $3,000 for a low-end AU and a bit more than $5,000 for a coin at the upper end of this range. I'd suggest being patient and waiting for examples that are clean for the grade, choice and as original as possible.

20. Big Spread S Mint Type Three Double Eagles. The early date San Francisco Type Three issues (specifically those produced between 1877 and 1882) are true condition rarities. Most of these issues are expensive in MS62 and above but affordable in MS61. I like the value of these coins in MS61.

Here's an example. In MS62, an 1879-S is worth in the $11,000-13,000 range. The same date in MS61 is worth around $4,000 to 5,000. In some cases, a high end MS61 is as attractive as a lower end MS62. As Type Threes become more popular with date collectors (and I think they will), it seems like many people will gravitate towards the 1879-S in nice MS61.

There are dozens of other undervalued United States gold coins that could have made this list. I'd be curious to hear from you with your comments about omissions as well as about those included on this list.

The State of the Liberty Head Double Eagle Market: 2011

The level of popularity for the Liberty Head double eagle series, struck between 1850 and 1907, shows no signs of abating. In fact, I think these are the most avidly collected United States gold coins by date. How has the market fared for $20 Libs. in the last three to five years and what does the future portend? Let's take a look at the State of the Market for Liberty Head double eagles. 1. The Impact of Bullion Prices on $20 Libs

At the end of May 2006, the price of gold stood at around $660 per ounce. Five years later, gold hovered near $1,530 and it had reached a high of over $1,600 earlier in the Spring. Obviously, this huge increase has had an impact on the market for twenty dollar gold pieces.

In May 2006, a generic Liberty Head double eagle in MS63 would have cost a collector around $900. Today, the same coin costs around $1800-1900. The first thing that is noticeable from this is that the value of a generic double eagle relative to its gold content has dropped appreciably. In fact, the spread between the spot price and the numismatic value is as low, in May 2011, as I can recall.

While generic prices have dropped, the demand for scarce and rare collector-oriented Liberty Head double eagles has increased considerably. Let's take a look at two examples.

In May 2006, an AU55 example of the popular 1850 double eagle would have cost a collector somewhere in the area of $3,000-3,500. Today, the same coin typically sells for $5,500-6,000. This is interesting as this is one of the few areas in the numismatic market where a rare coin (the 1850) has actually performed as well as the generic issue since 2006.

Let's also look at a common date Carson City issue. In May 2006, an AU58 example of an 1875-CC was likely to sell in the $2,500-2,750 range. Today, the same coin will bring $4,000-4,500. From an investment standpoint, the $20 Liberty Head market has performed well in the past five years. But this is not a blanket statement and certain areas have done better than others. We will explore these later in this article.

2. What's Popular in this Market in 2011?

As someone who buys and sells hundreds of Liberty Head double eagles each month, I have a good feel for what's popular and what's not. In my observation, I can see a strong level of demand in certain areas. These include nearly all Type One issues in the $2,000-5,000 range, most affordable Carson City double eagles, very scarce and rare dates in all three types, shipwreck coins (more on these later), and coins with exceptional eye appeal. If I had to name some of the specific dates that seem to be in particularly strong demand right now, I'd include the following: 1854-S, 1856, 1859, 1862, 1863, 1868, and 1880.

Areas in the market that seem weak include generics, grade rarities (an example of this would be a coin like an 1888-S in MS64 which is a fairly common date in grades up to and including MS63 but a "rare" and expensive one in grades above this), rarities that showed huge price increases in the middle of the last decade, and coins that have poor overall eye appeal.

3. The Market For Rare Date Liberty Head Double Eagles

The top end of the Liberty Head double eagle market showed incredible strength during the 2000's. Let's look at a few examples.

The 1866-S No Motto was an issue that was considered esoteric 10-15 years ago and I can remember literally begging clients of mine to buy nice EF and AU examples as they seemed incredibly undervalued to me at the time. This issue caught fire and prices soared. In the early part of the 2000's, an AU50 1866-S No Motto double eagle could be purchased for $8,000-10,000. By 2007-2008, the same date in this grade would have realized $40,000+ at auction; and probably would have been far less attractive, for the grade, as the example(s) available in 2000. Today, this same coin is worth in the low to mid-30's.

Possibly the most dramatic price swings in the $20 Lib. series have been for the major rarities like the 1854-O, 1856-O, 1861-S Paquet, and the 1870-CC. These coins became very expensive by the 2006-2008 boom years and, quite frankly, they became priced out of range of all but the wealthiest collectors and investors. These four issues have seen drops of 20-30% since their market highs, but I am noticing that they are starting to percolate once again and prices are raising. I think that buyers of these very rare issues are far more particular than they were five years ago and if a coin that is priced at $250,000 and up doesn't have good eye appeal it will prove to be a hard sell.

4. The Strength of the Market in Cool "One of a Kinds"

While the classic rarities in the Liberty Head double eagle series have taken a bit of a hit lately, the upper end of the market is far from weak. In fact, the market for really cool, really nice condition rarities is exceptionally strong and deep. Usually, coins of this sort wind-up at auction. I can think of a number of these; for the sake of brevity let's look at two.

In the recent Heritage Central States sale (April 2011) there was a gorgeous PCGS MS63 CAC 1869 double eagle. The coin had great color and surfaces and was fresh, choice and high end. Its a population four coin with two graded higher at PCGS and it was the second best I'd ever seen. Trends at the time was $28,500 and I expected this coin to bring in the low to mid-30's. It sold for $45,885. A great coin, yes, but a really robust price especially considering that Type Two double eagles are somewhat out-of-favor with collectors right now.

Another interesting "one of a kind" coin was the NGC MS65 1852-O that was sold as lot 5243 in the Heritage 2011 FUN sale in January. While I wasn't absolutely crazy about this coin from a quality standpoint (I graded it MS64 but didn't think it was a Gem) there was no denying it was a special coin for an O mint double eagle. And the fact that it remains the only New Orleans double eagle of any date meant that it was destined to bring a strong price. It sold for $276,000; not "crazy" money but still a heckuva lot for a common date New Orleans double eagle!

What's interesting to note right now is that any double eagle that is either finest known or well up in the Condition Census is destined to sell for a record price while some of the more classic rarities in the Liberty Head series might still be a bit soft.

5. Shipwreck Coins

No denomination of United States gold coinage has been more affected by shipwrecks/hoards than double eagles. The S.S. Brother Jonathan, S.S. Central America, and S.S. Republic hoards have added thousands of interesting Type One double eagles into the market.

For many years the supply of these coins far outstripped the demand. You couldn't wander through a coin show without tripping over a stack of 1857-S double eagles. (OK, a slight exaggeration but...)

As double eagles became more popular, the appeal of the shipwreck coins grew. There are now a number of retailers who actively sell these and the trend appears to be strongest for dates that have low "shipwreck populations."

Here's an example. Let's say you have an 1851 double eagle in AU58 from the S.S. Republic shipwreck. This coin could bring as much as $5,000 if it were put in an auction. The exact same coin without a shipwreck pedigree might bring $3,000 if it were extremely high end; $2,750 or so if it were just "average."

The shipwreck double eagles that seem to be in the greatest demand are the ones that appear infrequently. In other words, if you have a double eagle from the S.S. Central America that isn't a commonly seen issue (i.e., its not an 1857-S) then it is considered "scarce" by shipwreck collectors.

The entire shipwreck double eagle phenomenon is sort of a mixed blessing to me. I like the fact that these coins attract new collectors and I respect their history and pedigree. But I think many are cosmetically unappealing and I have a hard time justifying the premium that some of these coins are getting. Is a $3,000 double eagle worth $5,000 (or more) because its from a shipwreck? To me, no. But to a number of collectors the answer is clearly yes.

6. Tracking the Market by The 1856-O Specimen

Many collectors feel that the single most desirable Liberty Head double eagle is the unique Specimen-63 example of the 1856-O. The coin first surfaced in the late 1970's/early 1980's and it has bounced around quite a bit more than you'd think.

In Heritage 2002 FUN sale, the coin sold for $345,000. The owner held it for two years and then placed it in the Heritage June 2004 sale where it brought $542,800. It was purchased by an investor who, as I recall, had never purchased another Liberty Head double eagle before and he held it for five years, placing it in the Heritage May 2009 sale where it brought a record-smashing $1,437,500.

In just seven years, the price of this special coin has increased by nearly 5x. Given the fact that there are now numerous United States coins that have brought over $1 million at auction or via private treaty, I am not surprised at the value level of the 1856-O. I would have to think that if it appeared for sale again in the near future it would bring over $2 million.

7. Tracking the Middle Market

This article has been more focused on the upper end of the market than the lower and middle end and this is not representative of the $20 Lib market as there are a lot more transactions in the $2,500-5,000 range than in the rarefied air of six figure coins.

I make a strong two way market in Type One and Carson City double eagles in the $2,000-10,000 range and I find this area of the market to be quite strong. I have a few interesting observations to share.

I find the grading of these coins to generally be more consistent than on smaller denomination coins. That said, I still find inconsistencies. I love lustrous, unmarked "sliders" graded AU58, but see coins in 58 holders that range from terrific to terrible. In my experience, really nice AU58 coins with great eye appeal are now bringing at least 10-15% more than average quality coins and I think that this spread will increase in the future.

In the Type One series, there are certain dates that I literally couldn't keep in stock even if I had multiple examples. Collectors love the Civil War dates and the underrated Philadelphia issues from 1854 through 1859 have become very popular as well.

Carson City issues are collected both by date and as type coins. I find that the key issues like the 1878-CC, 1879-CC, 1885-CC, and 1891-CC are very popular in circulated grades and in Uncirculated as well. The more common dates (priced in the $2,500-5,000 range) are extremely easy for me to sell as long as they are attractive, lustrous coins with fewer-than-average bagmarks. Coins with CAC stickers are especially in demand amongst type collectors or collectors who, while not working on date sets, want to buy groups of four, five, or six different pieces to salt away.

8. In Conclusion: What does the Future Hold?

I think the future for collector-quality Liberty Head double eagles is as bright as for any other type of United States gold coin.

As gold continues to go up in value, more investors become aware of gold coins. For various reasons, more wind-up buying double eagles than any other type of numismatic "product" and due to good marketing, more of these will be steered toward Libs than towards Saints.

The beauty of the 20 Lib series is that, marketing aside, the coins themselves are very interesting. They were issued at a tumultuous time in US history and at significant mints such as Carson City, New Orleans, and San Francisco. And they come in a tremendous array of prices; you can buy $2,000 coins or you can buy $200,000 coins.

I think the more affordable $20 Libs have a really bright future; coins in the $2,000-5,000 range that are interesting, reasonably scarce and which contain nearly an ounce of gold are just about irresistible to collectors. The super high end coins will continue to shine as well; coins priced at $50,000 and up that are very rare or that represent the highest available quality for a specific issue.

The real question is what about the middle market? I could sell as many 1859-O double eagles as I could find in choice VF and EF grades and I'm sure I could sell the first, second, and third finest known(s) of this date. But what about the so-so quality AU50 and AU53 coins? How will those fare in the future? Check back in 2014 when I update this article and we'll see!