Of all the various Liberty Head series, the No Motto eagles are probably the most complex from a pricing standpoint. The bad news is that there are around 15 or 20 issues which have surviving populations in the 25-75 coin range, and even more which are true appearance rarities. The good news is that there are no exceedingly rare six or seven-figure dates. So, let’s talk No Motto tens!Read More
I have written extensively about the Condition Census as it applies to United States gold coins: what it is, its origin and significance and specific examples of issues and a listing of the Condition Census. I recently had an interesting conversation with an advanced collector about his holdings, and he mentioned to me that there were specific instances where he owned virtually the entire Condition Census for the denomination in which he specialized. This was not some idle boast; what he said was true and it inspired me to think about writing a series of articles which focus on Condition Census listings.
The first denomination that I’m going to focus on is Liberty Head eagles. This is a series which has gone from overlooked to in demand in a reasonably short period of time. As recently as four or five years ago, I can remember offering unquestionable Condition Census examples of more obscure (i.e., Philadelphia and San Francisco) issues for very reasonable sums and having them sit on my website for weeks before they sold. Today, when I get such coins in—which is not very often—they sell almost immediately and typically with multiple orders.
Before I begin, there is a major caveat to discuss which concern not only the Condition Census but any study that deals with rankings of coins in regards to their appearance. Just because the plastic that encases a coin says that it grades, for example, MS62, this doesn’t mean it’s “better” than another example of the same date that grades MS61, MS60 or even AU58. When I say that in order to qualify as a Condition Census example a coin must grade in the AU55 to AU58 range, this is making an assumption that the coin in question is choice, original and eye appealing.
1. No Motto, 1838 to 1866
1838: There are at least four to six known in Uncirculated so, in theory, an 1838 eagle would have to grade at least MS60 to MS61 to qualify as a Condition Census example. However, I might include a really choice AU58 as well.
1839 Head of 1838: This variety is more common in Uncirculated than sometimes realized with probably over 10 known. To qualify as a Condition Census example a coin would have to grade MS61 to MS62.
1839 Head of 1840: This variety is extremely rare in higher grade and I am aware of just two in Uncirculated. A nice AU55 would easily qualify as Condition Census.
1840: The 1840 eagle is common in lower AU grades but rare in AU58 and extremely rare in full Mint State with just four or five known. An MS60 is easily in the Condition Census
1841: There are five or six Uncirculated examples of this date. I would regard any 1841 eagle which grades MS60 or better as Condition Census.
1841-O: This very rare date is unknown in Uncirculated and exceedingly rare above AU55. A choice, original AU53 to AU55 is easily in the Condition Census for the issue.
1842 Small Date: This is the rarer of the two varieties for the year. Three or four exist in Uncirculated meaning that a properly graded AU58 is in the Condition Census.
1842 Large Date: With just five or six known in Uncirculated this variety is rare in high grades as well. I would give the cut-off for Condition Census inclusion as MS60 to MS61.
1842-O: The 1842-O is a very rare coin in high grades with an estimated four or five in Uncirculated. A choice, original AU58 is in the Condition Census.
1843: The 1843 is a lightly regarded issue but it is exceedingly rare in Uncirculated with just two or three known. Again, a properly graded AU58 is in the Condition Census.
1843-O: There are five to six known in Uncirculated. An 1843-O eagle which grades MS60 to MS61 qualifies as Condition Census.
1844: The 1844 is the rarest eagle from this mint struck prior to the Civil War. There are only one or two in Uncirculated and the bottom end of the Condition Census goes all the way down to AU53 to AU55.
1844-O: An MS60 example of this date is in the Condition Census as there are maybe five to six in Uncirculated. A choice, original AU58 might qualify as well.
1845: There are just two or three known in Uncirculated which means a nice AU58 easily qualifies as Condition Census.
1845-O: Virtually all No Motto eagles from this mint are very rare to extremely rare in Uncirculated. Only three or four of this date exist in Mint State which means a nice AU58 is in the Condition Census.
1846: Another extremely rare issue in Mint State with just one or two known to me. I would place a choice AU55 in the Condition Census.
1846-O: Two or three are known in Uncirculated. A choice AU58 easily qualifies as Condition Census.
1847: This is one of the few No Motto eagles from the 1840’s which is not extremely rare in Uncirculated and more than 20 1847’s are known in MS60 or better. To qualify in the Condition Census, an example must be MS62 and choice for the grade.
1847-O: The 1847-O is the most common No Motto New Orleans eagle in Uncirculated with more than 10 known. I would place the cut-off for Condition Census at MS62.
1848: This date is much scarcer in Uncirculated than the 1847 or 1849 but a few very nice MS63 to MS64 examples are known, making MS62 the level for the Condition Census.
1848-O: There are actually as many as seven or eight known in Uncirculated including some in the MS64 to MS66 range. This makes the level for Condition Census a high MS63.
1849: More than 20 exist in Uncirculated including some as high as MS64. A nice, original MS63 would easily qualify in the Condition Census.
1849-O: I doubt if more than two or three are known in Uncirculated and none of these are much better than MS60 to MS61. A nice AU55 is in the Condition Census.
1850 Small Date: This is the scarcer of the two varieties and there are just five or six known in Uncirculated. I’d put any example in MS60 or better in the Condition Census listing.
1850 Large Date: While more available overall, this variety iss still quite rare in Mint State with maybe six to eight known. The Condition Census would include any example grading MS61 or finer.
1850-O: This overlooked condition rarity has just one or two known in Uncirculated. A properly graded AU58 is in the Condition Census.
1851: This date is harder to find in Mint State than other “common dates” of this era. There are probably fewer than a dozen known and an MS61 would qualify as Condition Census.
1851-O: Around ten or so are known in Uncirculated, mostly in the MS60 to MS61 range. To be in the Condition Census, an 1851-O eagle would have to grade MS61 and be choice.
1852: An estimated 12-15 exist in Mint State. I believe an MS62 is comfortably within the Condition Census.
1852-O: This date is hugely rare in Uncirculated with just one or two extant. A properly graded AU55 qualifies as Condition Census.
1853: Slightly more available than the 1852 in Uncirculated with around 15 or so known. An MS62 is in the Condition Census.
1853-O: A very rare issue in Uncirculated with just three to five known. A choice, original AU58 is in the Condition Census.
1854: Very rare in Uncirculated with fewer than ten known. MS61 examples are in the Condition Census.
1854-O Small Date: This is the rarer of the two varieties and only two or three known in Uncirculated. I think a choice, original AU58 would qualify in the Condition Census.
1854-O Large Date: This variety is more available in higher grades but it is still very rare in Uncirculated with just four or five known. Again, a properly graded AU58 is Condition Census.
1854-S: The first eagle from this mint and very rare in Uncirculated with four or five known. An AU58 is Condition Census.
1855: More than 15 are known in Uncirculated. MS62 seems to me to be the qualifying grade for Condition Census consideration.
1855-O: Just two or three exist in Uncirculated and not many more in AU58. A properly graded AU55 would qualify.
1855-S: This overlooked rarity n unknown in Uncirculated and exceedingly rare in AU58. The Condition Census includes any properly graded AU55.
1856: There are 15-20 in Uncirculated with most in the MS61 to MS63 range. An MS62 is in the Condition Census.
1856-O: There are only one or two in Uncirculated and not many in AU58. I’d include a properly graded AU55 in the Condition Census.
1856-S: There are around a half dozen known in Uncirculated including a few as high as MS63 to MS64. Still, any properly graded MS60 or better is Condition Census.
1857: I am aware of just two in Mint State and would place a properly graded AU58 in the Condition Census.
1857-O: This date is unknown in Uncirculated and exceptionally rare in AU58. I would place a properly graded AU55 in the Condition Census.
1857-S: Thanks to the SS Central America a few nice Mint State pieces exist but I would still put any properly graded MS60 or finer example in the Condition Census.
1858: This date is probably unique in Uncirculated and the Condition Census extends down as far as AU55.
1858-O: There are fewer than ten known in Uncirculated but this is a more available date in Uncirculated than commonly recognized. I’d place the Condition Census cut-off at around MS61.
1858-S: Beginning with this issue, the S mint eagles become impossible to find in U;ncirculated. Condition Census is AU55 and maybe even as low as AU53 if eye appeal is given weight.
1859: A very rare and overlooked coin in higher grades with just three or so known in Uncirculated. Condition Census is AU58 and above.
1859-O: There is nothing close to Uncirculated known and even a nice AU53 is well within the Condition Census.
1859-S: Unknown in Uncirculated and I’ve never seen one better than AU55. Condition Census is AU50 to AU53.
1860: Fewer than ten exist in Uncirculated and just two or three grade above MS62. Condition Census is likely in the MS61 range.
1860-O: As many as five or six are known in Uncirculated which means that any piece grading MS60 or above is in the Condition Census for this issue.
1860-S: This is one of the real condition rarities in the series and I’d place even a properly graded AU50 to AU53 in the Condition Census.
1861: This is the last date of this design type which is available in higher grades. Two to three dozen are known in Uncirculated including some nice MS63’s and MS64’s. I’d still place a properly graded MS62 in the Condition Census.
1861-S: Unique in Uncirculated and extremely rare in the higher AU grades. Condition Census is AU55.
1862: Unknown in Uncirculated and extremely rare in the higher AU grades although a touch more available than the other P mints of this era. I’d place a choice, high end AU55 in the Condition Census.
1862-S: Unique in Uncirculated and exceedingly rare in AU55 and above. Condition
1863: Another very rare date although one does exist in Uncirculated. I think Condition Census is as low as AU50 to AU53.
1863-S: Relatively common with a whopping two to three known in Uncirculated (that’s a little coin humor, reader…). Condition Census is AU55 but a nice AU53 might qualify as well.
1864: Another date with two or three known in Uncirculated but still very rare in grades as low as AU55 to AU58. Condition Census examples grade in this range.
1864-S: The rarest No Motto eagle; unknown in Uncirculated and exceedingly rare in Uncirculated. An AU50 is in the Condition Census and I’d suggest even a properly graded EF45 could be as well.
1865: Unique in Uncirculated and exceedingly rare in AU55 and above. An AU53 qualifies in the Condition Census.
1865-S Normal Date: The rarer of the two varieties and one of the keys to the series in AU. Condition Census is in the AU50 to AU53 range.
1865-S Inverted Date: Quite rare but more available than the Normal Date. This variety is unique in Mint State. Condition Census begins around the AU53 mark.
1866-S No Motto: Yet another issue which is unknown in Uncirculated and extremely rare in properly graded AU55 and above. Condition Census would certainly include a properly graded AU53.
So there you have it…a lot of rare coins with very few known in Uncirculated and a proposed Condition Census for each.
In the next article in this series, I will look at the slightly less interesting but still very collectible With Motto type.
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One of my favorite American coins is the 1863 eagle. I had a lovely NGC EF45 pass through my hands recently and it inspired me to write a blog about what I think is one of the absolute rarest Liberty Head eagles. Production of this issue was limited to a scant 1,218 business strikes, and I rate the 1863 as the third rarest Liberty Head eagle after the 1875 and the 1864-S. There are probably fewer than 30 known in all grades, with most in the EF40 to AU50 range. There are very likely as few as six or seven known in AU grades and two in Uncirculated; more about these a little further down the page.
A quick search of auction records shows that no problem-free 1863 eagles have sold since October 2010, and only seven records exist for problem-free coins in the last decade. My records show that I have handled exactly two pieces in the last five years: an NGC EF45 and a PCGS AU53.
When available, the 1863 tends to be bright from having been cleaned or dipped and it is invariably very heavily abraded. This piece shown above is one of the very few circulated pieces that I have seen with natural color. There are a few small abrasions on the surfaces, but they are much cleaner than usual.
There are two high-grade 1863 eagles known. The finest is the Bass IV: 683 coin which sold for $52,900 in 2000; a price which, at the time, I thought represented possibly the single biggest bargain all of the three Bass sales which featured gold coins. Bass had, through an agent, bought this exact coin in August 1991 for $104,500. Harry didn't lose money on many coins but he got spanked — and good — on this one; all the more remarkable considering that it is the finest known example of a truly rare issue and it is exceptional for the grade. Today, it would bring considerably more than in either of its previous auction appearances.
The other Uncirculated 1863 eagle is an MS62 that was found as part of the S.S. Republic treasure. I have never personally seen this coin, but it is in the collection of a western specialist along with many other finest known or Condition Census pieces from this shipwreck.
Civil War gold coins have been very popular in recent years as a result of the sesquicentennial of the war plus promotions/popularization by dealers such as myself. While it is not well-known outside of the specialist community, it is my belief that there are currently many collectors who would appreciate a nice 1863 eagle in their holdings.
Do you buy rare gold coins?
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After many years of neglect, the Liberty Head gold coinage from the San Francisco mint is becoming popular with collectors. This makes sense as it is, for the most part, affordable and there is no denying the historic connotation(s) of the early issues. In my experience, one of the most collectable groups of gold coins from this mint is the eagle coinage from 1854 through 1878. The first quarter-century of eagle coinage from the San Francisco mint is full of rarities and it makes an especially challenging set for the collector of means. In this two-part article, I'll take a look at each date in the series (from 1854 through 1878) and at some important varieties as well.
In Part One, which is included here, we'll cover the No Motto dates produced from 1854 through 1866. In the second part, which will be published next month, we'll cover the With Motto issues from 1866 through 1878.
1854-S: A popular issue due to its status as the first eagle from this mint but one of the easier gold coins dated 1854-S to locate due to its large initial mintage of 123,826. The 1854-S is mostly found in EF40 to AU53 grades. It is scarce in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and extremely rare in Uncirculated. The only Uncirculated 1854-S eagle that I have seen was an NGC MS62 that was owned by Kagin's around six or seven years ago; it was later sold to a West Coast specialist. This date is most often found with abundant abrasions and impaired luster and any choice, original piece is scarce.
1855-S: The mintage for eagles dropped to just 9,000 during this year and the 1855-S eagle is a rare, under-appreciated coin. I believe that there are around fifty to sixty or so known in all grades with most in the VF30 to EF45 range. In About Uncirculated, the 1855-S eagle is quite rare and of the ten to twelve known, almost all are abraded AU50 to AU53 pieces. I have never seen an 1855-S eagle that graded higher than AU55 and just two or three at that level. PCGS has graded a single coin in AU58 and there are currently none known in Uncirculated. Despite the rarity of this date, it generally trades in the $5,000-7,500 and it seems like exceptional value to me.
1856-S: The mintage for San Francisco eagles rose to 68,000 in 1856 and the 1856-S is one of the more readily available early dates from this mint. There are hundreds known in the EF40 to AU50 range and this date is available--at reasonable levels--even in AU55 to AU58. For many years, the 1856-S eagle was unknown in Uncirculated but a few high grade examples were found in the S.S. Central America treasure. The finest is a PCGS MS63 that is ex Christie's 12/00: 73, where it sold for $19,550. At least one or two others exist in PCGS MS62 including ANR 5/05: 378, which also brought $19,550. Varieties are known with a Medium S (as on 1854 and 1855) and a Large S which is significantly scarcer. As with the 1854-S, this is a date that is very hard to find with original color and minimally marked fields.
1857-S: The rarity of this date is somewhat skewed by the availability of the double eagles dated 1857-S but it is actually a relatively scarce coin. A few hundred are known and these tend to be in the EF45 to AU53 range. Properly graded AU55 to AU58 examples are very scarce, especially with natural color and choice surfaces. There were a few high quality pieces found in the S.S. Central America treasure and the best of these, graded MS64 by PCGS, is ex Heritage 2/09: 2906 ($53,188), Christie's 12/00: 74 ($40,250). There is at least one other 1857-S eagle that has been graded MS63 by both PCGS and NGC. All examples have a Medium S mintmark and there appears to be at least two different date positions.
1858-S: Beginning with this issue, the eagles from the San Francisco mint become rarer than the previous dates (with the exception of the 1855-S) and part of this is attributable to low mintages. Of the 11,800 eagles made at this mint in 1858, it is likely that only fifty or so are known today and most are seen in very low grades. Interestingly, this date is slightly more available in AU grades than one might expect with as many as fifteen known. I have never seen an Uncirculated 1858-S and only one or two AU58's that I thought were accurately graded. No example stands out in my memory as being the clear finest known as nearly all have been dipped and are very heavily abraded. This is a date that the fussy collector is going to have a hard time appreciating and it might be smart to consider a decent EF45 to AU50 instead of the banged-up AU55 to AU58 coins that are seen from time to time.
1859-S: The mintage of this issue is a low 7,000; the smallest amount for any San Francisco eagle produced through this year. There are fewer than fifty known and the 1859-S is a rare issue in all grades. The average example is in the VF30 to EF40 range and an accurately graded EF45 is extremely scarce. In AU grades, the 1859-S eagle is very rare with fewer than ten known. PCGS has graded just one in AU55 with none better while NGC has graded an AU58 and an MS60 (neither of which I have seen in person). All 1859-S eagles have a Large S mintmark which seen on the reverse of the 1859-1862 San Francisco eagles as well.
1860-S: Only 5,000 examples of the 1860-S were made and this is clearly among the rarest gold coins of any denomination from this mint. This is an issue that is generally seen well worn, with subdued luster and with abraded surfaces. There are as many as six or seven properly graded AU examples known as well as two in Uncirculated. The finest is an NGC MS62 that appears to be ex Stacks 9/06: 1491 ($36,800) and the second best is ex Superior 5/08: 132, S.S. Republic ($36,800). All 1860-S eagles have the same Large S mintmark that is seen on all SF eagles made between 1859 and 1862. While not an inexpensive issue, the 1860-S seems undervalued to me and it still does not get the respect that its Civil War counterparts have generated in recent years.
1861-S: Surprisingly, the mintage figure for 1861-S eagles is higher than in previous years and there were a respectable 15,500 produced. This date is scarce but not nearly as rare as the 1859-S or 1860-S. There are an estimated 80-90 known with enough in the VF-EF range to supply most of the collectors in this series. The 1861-S eagle becomes rare in AU and is very rare in properly graded AU55 and above. It is unique in Uncirculated with the only piece currently accounted for being an NGC MS61 that is ex Heritage 1/12: 4977 ($54,625). There are some reasonably attractive 1861-S eagles known with a decent amount of original color and nominally abraded surfaces. All 1861-S eagles have a Large S mintmark.
1862-S: The 1862-S eagle is considerable scarcer than the 1861-S, despite their relatively similar mintages; a total of 12,500 of the 1862-S were made. It appears that many were melted and those that did survive tend to show extensive circulation with the typical survivor grading VF25 to EF40. The 1862-S is rare in EF45 and very rare in About Uncirculated with probably no more than a half dozen or so accurately graded pieces known. The finest, by a huge margin, is the unique NGC MS61 that brought a remarkable $103,500 in the Heritage 4/11 sale. The next best that I have seen after this coin is an AU55 from the Bass collection. The 1862-S typically shows light golden-orange color, flat radial lines within the atars and plenty of abrasions on the surfaces. This is the last year in which the Large S mintmark would be used until it was resurrected in 1865.
1863-S: An even 10,000 eagles were made at the San Francisco mint in 1863. The 1863-S is a bit rarer overall than the 1862-S with around 45-55 known in all grades but it is actually slightly more available in higher grades. There seem to be as many as a dozen extant in AU grades and there are three in Mint State. The finest is Heritage 10/95: 6330 ($27,500), ex Norweb II: 2188 ($7,700) and this is graded MS61 by PCGS. The second finest, also graded MS61 by PCGS, is ex Bass IV: 684 ($18,400). The third finest is an NGC MS61 that was last sold as Goldberg 2/09: 1535 ($37,950). The reverse uses a Medium S mintmark. Despite the overall rarity of this issue, there are some reasonably attractive examples known and with some patience, the collector should be able to find an 1863-S eagle in the EF45 to AU53 range that is acceptable.
1864-S: I have written extensively about this issue and have stated before that it is not only the rarest eagle from this mint but the second rarest Liberty Head eagle, trailing only the 1875. The mintage was just 2,500 (the lowest for any San Francisco eagle) and the survival rate is low as well. Around 20-25 are known in all grades with many either very well worn (I have seen examples in grades as low as VF20) or damaged. The 1864-S is unknown in Uncirculated and exceedingly rare in AU with just two or three known. The finest is a PCGS AU55 that is ex Bass III: 656. This will be the single most difficult coin in the set for the specialist who is working on a SF eagle set. The few coins that are available (I have handled just two in the last decade) tend to be cleaned, well-worn and unappealing. As I have said before, if you have a chance to acquire one, throw caution to the wind!
1865-S Normal Date: There are two varieties of 1865-S eagle known. The first, which has a Normal Date, is the rarer with an estimated three dozen or so known. The total mintage of this date is 16,700 and it is possible that around 5,000 to 7,000 were struck with the Normal Date obverse. This variety is usually seen with bright surfaces, multiple bagmarks and a sunken appearance which is especially prominent at the reverse center. I have never seen or heard of an Uncirculated 1865-S Normal Date eagle and am aware of just two or three with claims to the AU55 to AU58 range. While not an inexpensive coin, I think it is still undervalued given the fact that it is among the ten rarest issues in the entire Liberty Head eagle series. An advanced San Francisco eagle collection with a nice mid-to-high level AU will have a coin that is not likely to ever be improved.
1865-S Inverted Date: There are few United States gold coins with a higher "cool factor" than this variety. The 186 in the date was originally punched upside down and was then corrected. This can be seen with the naked eye and it is a variety that is not seen on more than a handful of other United States issues. While more available than its Normal Date counterpart in terms of overall rarity, the Inverted Date is rarer in high grades. It is extremely rare in AU with no more than three or four known and it is exceedingly rare in Uncirculated with exactly two known. The finest is a PCGS MS64 that is originally from the Brother Jonathan hoard. It sold for $115,000 in 1999 and when it was resold by Bowers and Merena in their 8/01 auction it brought only $81,650; the second finest is an NGC MS62 from the S.S. Republic that is now owned by a western specialist. This is an issue that is generally seen with a very flat strike at the centers and heavy wear which impairs the luster. Most are in the VF-EF range and have been dipped as well as showing excessive abrasions. A nice EF-AU example of this fascinating variety would make a great addition to a San Francisco eagle set.
1866-S No Motto: This variety was struck early in 1866, before the changeover to the With Motto variety; the 1866 Philadelphia eagles are only known with the new With Motto reverse. A total of 8,500 No Motto 1866-S eagles were coined and this is rare coin in all grades. There are around four dozen known with most in low grades (VF to EF). The 1866-S No Motto eagle is extremely rare in properly graded AU with maybe a half dozen properly graded pieces known. The finest that I have personally seen is Bass IV: 689, graded AU58 by PCGS, that sold for $21,850 a decade ago. This is an overlooked issue that is comparable to the 1860-S and 1865-S eagles in terms of overall rarity and as rare, if not rarer, in high grades.
In 1866, the San Francisco mint changed over to the With Motto design and this continued until the Liberty Head design was abolished in 1907. In next month installment of this two-part article, we'll look at the 1866-S to 1878-S dates.
Would you like to collect these interesting San Francisco eagles? If so, Doug Winter can guide you. Email him today at firstname.lastname@example.org and let him explain even more about these fascinating coins!
In the recent Schuyler Rumsey coin auction, there were a number of coins that I would define as "really special." After the sale was over, I thought about the prices they brought and was initially pretty stunned. Upon further reflection, I still think that these coins brought strong prices but the numbers now make a little more sense . Let's take a look at some of these specific coins and then ask (and answer) a bigger question: how do you price a really special coin? This was not a condition-related sale and there were only a few coins that brought a tremendous amount of money because they were high grade for the issue. Examples of such coins include the 1852-O eagle in PCGS AU55 (Lot 982) that brought $18,400 and the 1870-CC eagle in PCGS EF45 (Lot 1030) that sold for $97,750. In both cases these coins sold to savvy dealers who clearly believed that the coins would upgrade significantly. If they don't upgrade, both coins will prove to be bad deals for their buyers.
But the coins that were of real interest to me in the sale were the still-slightly-under-the-radar rarities like the 1864-S eagle, the 1873 eagle and the 1876 eagle. These aren't coins that condition is solely relevant. They are what I call "fundamental rarities" or coins that are rare in all grades.
In the Liberty Head eagle series, the 1864-S, 1873 and 1876 are three of the rarest collectable issues. In fact, the only eagle that is rarer is the 1875 which is, for all intents and purposes, nearly impossible to find.
The 1864-S eagle in the Rumsey sale (Lot 1017) was graded VF30 by PCGS. It was a coin that I thought was accurately graded and, in spite of a scratch on the reverse, it was evenly worn and rather handsome for the grade. This coin sold for $34,500; by far a record price for the date in this grade. I know the buyer of this coin; he is a very sophisticated collector. The underbidder was a knowledgeable dealer. Were these two individuals crazy or were they savvy?
Before we can accurately answer that question, some background information about the 1864-S is in order. And after this, we need to look at ways in which really special coins (which any 1864-S eagle is) are priced.
The 1864-S is the second rarest Liberty Head eagle after the 1875. There are probably no more than 20-25 known to exist. In my experience, the opportunity to purchase one occurs maybe once every three to five years. This is verified by the fact that only one piece (Bowers and Merena 7/06: 1640, PCGS EF45 at $50,600) had sold in the last five years. To find a piece that was comparable to Rumsey:1017 you had to go all the way back to the Richmond I: 2074 example (graded EF40 by NGC and selling for $10,350 but a coin which, as I recall, was really no better than the PCGS VF30 being offered).
Using comparable auction prices to help determine the price of a rare coin has become commonplace in the last few years. In the case of the 1864-S, this was not a good method for at least two of the following reasons:
The number of auction records for VF30 1864-S eagles is virtually nonexistent. The last coin sold at auction as "VF30" was a raw, cleaned example in July 1997 that brought $8.050. Clearly, this is of no help.
Since the Richmond I: 2074 coin was sold back in 2004, the market for this issue has totally changed. This is proven by the $50,600 that an EF45 brought just two years later. But that was six years ago and, if anything, the number of collectors who want an 1864-S eagle in any grade has at least doubled--if not tripled.
Since we can safely state that using auction comparables to price an 1864-S eagle isn't going to work, then how about checking a published price guide like Coin World Trends? According to the most recent edition, values for the 1864-S eagle are $5,500 in VF20 and $12,500. These were probably accurate in 1992 but in 2012 they are clearly completely and utterly irrelevant in 2012 (but that's another story...)
Before I render my verdict on whether the 1864-S in the Rumsey sale was a good deal or a bad deal, I think there are two other points to touch on.
The first is opportunity cost. If you are a deep-pocketed collector and you are particpating in a challenging series with a number of really special issues included (Liberty Head eagles are a poster child for this) you always have to determine how often will you have the chance to buy an acceptable example. In the case of the 1864-S, it's been pretty well established that its going to be once every three to five years if you are lucky. So the chance to buy a decent one represents an exceptionally important opportunity for the serious collector.
Second is the fact that any really special coin is part of what I refer to as a transaction-driven market. What I mean by this is that when you buy an 1864-S eagle in PCGS VF30 for $34,500 you have essentially created a new market. Yes, this market is considerably higher than it was the last time that one traded. But the reality of the market is that since a VF30 just traded for $34,000 in a public transaction, all the geniuises that live by comparable auction prices realized are now going to see this $34,000 trade. Even if Trends ignores this transaction and keeps their estimated value at 1992 levels, the bar has still been raised.
Let's take a less involved look at the other two really rare date eagles that I mentioned above.
The 1873 eagle in the sale (Lot 1040) was graded EF45 by PCGS. It sold for $43,125.
While not as rare as the 1864-S, the 1873 eagle is still a seriously rare issue with an estimated three dozen or so known from an original mintage of just 800. I have handled two or three in the last five years and actually had a reasonably hard time selling them as I found this to be an issue that lacked the rarity recognition that other issues in the series have.
The last EF45 to sell at auction (an NGC EF45 coin) brought $11,212 in Superior's 9/08 auction. The last transaction of any sort was an NGC AU58 sold by Heritage in June 2010 that realized $27,600. Based on these two transaction and on my knowledge of the series, I figured that the 1873 in the Rumsey sale would bring somewhere in the $15,000-20,000 range.
Why did it sell for so much this time? I think there are a few reasons. First of all, at least two people really wanted this coin. Even though the opening bid was a very strong $24,000, these two bidders slugged it out until the final bell rang at $37,500. Strong price? Yes! Crazy price? Maybe not...
As I thought about the 1873, I had the following realization. For years, this was an absurdly undervalued date. The NGC AU58 that sold for 28 grand in 2010? Even though it wasn't a cosmetically appealing coin, even then I knew it was really cheap. And here's why. For years, the quartet of very rare business strike Type Three Philadelphia double eagles traded in the $5,000-10,000 range for decent EF examples. But after they suddenly got hot, prices rose to $20,000, then to $30,000, then even higher. An 1873 eagle is just as rare as any of the Big Five Philly Type Threes. Why should it sell at such a discount? Especially now that Liberty Head eagles have some strong collector support?
The 1876 eagle in the Rumsey sale (Lot 1047) was graded AU53 by PCGS and it also sold for $43,125. To me, this was a very surprising price.
I find the 1876 to be less rare than the 1873, despite a lower mintage of 687 coins. There are around forty to fifty known and I can recall having owned at least three in the last two to three years. Like the 1873, they were not an easy sell even with the fact that the mintage figure is the second lowest in the whole series after the 1875.
Heritage 10/10: 4892, graded AU53 by PCGS, was a good comparable to the Rumsey coin and it sold for $14,950. I figured the Rumsey coin might bring as much as $20,000 and it opened at just $13,000. Again, two bidders slugged it out and this time, the match lasted longer.
Good deal or bad deal? I liked the coin better than the 1873 (I thought it migt upgrade to AU55 if resubmitted) but I didn't think that the 1876 carried as much opportunity cost. In other words, I would have told a collector that if this one doesn't work out, it's possible that another decent coin will turn up in a year or so; maybe even less. So, on this one, I'm going to have to vote more towards the "not a bad deal but probably not a good deal" camp.
As is so often the case in my writing (and my thinking!) I've gotten a bit off track and still don't feel that I've totally answered the original question in this blog: "how do you price really special coins?"
I've mentioned above that published price information is not a good indicator for really rare coins. And while sometimes helpful, auction price data has to be very subtly interpreted to be truly helpful.
Ultimately, the price of a really special coin boils down to what your gut feels that it is worth. If you are willing to pay $25,000 for a decent 1864-S eagle and you've been waiting four years for the chance to buy one, shouldn't you be willing to pull the trigger at $30,000 or even $35,000?
What I find most helpful is knowing the series in question very well. As I mentioned above, the Liberty Head eagle series has become more popular in the last two or three years than at any time I can remember. So pre-2010 auction prices often have to be taken with a grain of salt. And it helps to know that certain other rare issues, like the 1883-O, have a number of recent auction trades and private sales in the $40,000-70,000 range. The 1883-O is more popular than the 1873 and the 1876 but it is of comparable rarity. If an AU50 example of this date is worth $50,000-60,000 then shouldn't an 1876 in AU53 be worth at least half this?
These are the sort of questions that make numismaics such an enjoyable pasttime to me. Do you have questions or comments regarding the values of really special rare coins? If so, please feel free to email me at email@example.com
In the first part of this article, I discussed the ins and outs of assembling a year set of Liberty Head eagles from 1838 through 1866. In case you've already forgotten the premise, it's that a collector can purchase one example of each year that this denomination/type was produced in order to save money and still be an active participant in this very interesting (and very long-lived) series. Without further ado, let's go to the videotape, Bob...
1867: Only two mints struck eagles this year. Philadelphia is rarer and less expensive than San Francisco. I'd go with a nice 1867-P eagle and might even stretch a bit as it is undervalued.
1868: Neither the Philadelphia or San Francisco eagle of this year is hugely rare or even all that interesting. Either one, in EF45 to AU53, seems like a good purchase. Look for a coin with nice original surfaces.
1869: The 1869-P is a rare, low mintage date that is still not all that expensive. I'd go with a nice example with original surfaces and would even stretch for a high end (AU50 or better) example.
1870: This is a numismatically significant year as the Carson City mint began operations. The 1870-CC would be a great choice for this set but it is rare and expensive. The P and S mint eagles are both scarce and undervalued. It is hard to choose from one or the other!
1871: The 1871-CC is among the more affordable eagles from this mint produced before 1880 so it would be a good choice for this set. The 1871-P has a mintage of only 1,820 and it is very undervalued in all grades.
1872: The only affordable eagle dated 1872 is the San Francisco coin which is fairly common up to AU55. The 1872-P is very rare as is the 1872-CC. I'd probably settle for a nice AU 1872-S.
1873: For gold collectors, this is a banner year with many interesting issues. I love the 1873-P with its mintage of 800 and the 1873-CC is one of the three rarest eagles from this mint. Even the 1873-S is scarce but it is the most available of the three. Still, I'd splurge and go for a nice 1873-P.
1874: Mintages increased this year and the 1874-CC is the most available CC eagle struck before 1880. I'd look for a nice example in EF45 to AU55.
1875: The stopper this year is the 1875-P which has a mintage of just 100 business strikes and fewer than ten survivors. San Francisco didn't make eagles this year so your only realistic option is the 1875-CC which is very scarce but not impossible like the 1875-P.
1876: Another very interesting year with three possible dates available and all scarce. I personally like the 1876 as just 687 business strikes were made. The 1876-S is a sleeper which is far rarer than its mintage of 5,000 would suggest. A nice example of any of the three issues would be a great addition to this year set.
1877: The Philadelphia eagle is very rare (797 struck) while the CC is very scarce. The 1877-S is fairly common but a bit boring. I'd personally look for a nice AU 1877.
1878: Mintages increase beginning with this year as does availability. While the 1878-CC is very rare, the 1878-S is only semi-scarce in AU and the 1878-P is the first date in this set that is actually available in Mint State for less than $10,000+.
1879: For the first time, four mints struck Liberty Head eagles as the New Orleans mint reopened. I personally love the 1879-O, given its very low mintage (1,500 coins) and its numismatic significance. The 1879-CC is very rare also but much more expensive than the 1879-O.
1880: Another four mint year. Nothing struck this year is rare although the CC and O issues are extremely hard to llocate in AU58 and above. I'd select a nice 1880-O or 1880-CC in AU55 to AU58.
1881: Yet another four mint year. The scarcest issue is the 1881-O while the 1881-CC is actually somewhat available in higher grades. I think I'd pursue a nice 1881-CC.
1882: The second to last of the four mint years and another with no real rarities. I would look for a nice 1882-CC or 1882-CC in the middle to upper AU grades.
1883: The last four mint year of the eagle denomination for many years (until 1906) and one with a notable rarity: the 1883-O which had a mintage of only 800 coins. This issue has become quite expensive so it might make sense to look for a nice AU example of the 1883-CC.
1884: The New Orleans mint stopped making gold coins until 1888 so only three mints made eagles this year. The scarcest is the 1884-CC. The 1884-P is a sleeper and I would look for a nice, original MS62.
1885: Only two mints made eagles in 1885. Both are common and not especially interesting.
1886: Same comments as with the 1885. Look for a nice MS62 to MS63 coin.
1887: Ditto. The 1887-P is slightly scarcer and undervalued in MS62 to MS64.
1888: The New Orleans mint restarted production of eagles in 1888 and I'd suggest an 1888-O in MS62. The 1888-P is scarce and undervalued in Uncirculated.
1889: Of the two issues made this year, the 1889-P is the more interesting with a low mintage of only 4,485. It is very rare above MS62.
1890: Carson City resumed production of eagles in 1890 but San Francisco ceased striking this denomination until 1892. I personally like the 1890-CC in the lower Uncirculated grades as a choice for this set.
1891: Only the Philadelphia and Carson City mint made eagles in 1891. The 1891-CC is common in grades up to MS63 and a nice, original example is sure to add some "oomph" to this year set.
1892: After a three year hiatus the New Orleans mint struck eagles again. The 1892-O is available in MS62 for less than $2,500.
1893: As this is the last year that Carson City struck coins, I'd go with an 1890-CC as a ceremonial sign-off to this mint's coins. It is very rare in Uncirculated but available in AU grades.
1894: For the nest two years, there were three mints making eagles. The 1894-S has a mintage of just 25,000 and it is very underrated.
1895: The same is true with the 1895-S. A nice MS61 to MS62 is a hard coin to find and a good value at current levels.
1896: Now we are back to two issues: Philadelphia and San Francisco. The 1896-S is moderately scarce and probably more interesting than the dirt common 1896.
1897: And now we're back to three as the New Orleans mint resumed eagle production. I would go with an MS62 1897-O.
1898: A ho-hum year with two common issues, the 1898-P and the 1898-S.
1899: This year sees three issues with the 1899-O being the scarcest and most interesting. This is the hardest of the late date New Orleans eagles to find. Look for a nice MS62 to MS63 example.
1900: New century, two issues, both kind of nondescript. I'd go with the 1900-S.
1901: The 1901-S is the single most available Liberty Head eagle in higher grades. Buy a beautiful MS65 coin so that your set has at least one Gem coin.
1902: Two choices, both boring.
1903: New Orleans resumed operations this year and a nice MS62 to MS63 would make a good addition to the set.
1904: Two choices this year with the New Orleans being the more interesting. I would opt with a nice MS63.
1905: New Orleans didn't make eagles this year but San Francisco did. The 1905-S is actually a bit of a sleeper.
1906: We are back to a final four issue year as Denver made eagles for the first time in 1906. While the 1906-D is a common coin, I would include a nice Uncirculated piece as it is numismatically significant.
1907: The last year of issue. Three coins are available with the 1907-S being the scarcest. Your choice here, Mr. Eagle.
Do you have questions about assembling a set of Liberty Head eagles? If so please contact Doug Winter by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For most collectors, assembling a comlete set of Liberty Head eagles is a daunting task, to say the least. There are 184 different issues (including major varieties) struck from 1838 to 1907. While none of these individual coins is impossible to locate, many are rare to very rare and nearly every issue struck prior to 1878 is rare in higher grades and quite expensive. So how can a collector of more average means approach what, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting and overlooked denominations in all of American numismatics. The answer is to assemble a year set of Liberty Head eagles. This set would include one example of each year that this denomination was produced. Instead of being close to two hundred coins in order to finish the set, it is now only 69 coins. Even better, the savings is immense as it eliminates some of the very costly issues like the 1863, 1864-S, 1870-CC and 1875 and lets the collector replace these with interesting but much less costly alternatives.
Let's take a look at each year from 1838 until 1866 in this set (in Part Two, we'll look at the 1867-1907 issues). I'll list what I think is the best issue for each year in this set along with suggested grades.
1838: Only one issue, from Philadelphia, is available. This issue is very popular and significant as the first eagle produced with the new Liberty Head design and it is the first coin of this denomination produced since 1804. I'd splurge on this and buy as nice a coin as you can afford; certainly at least an EF40.
1839: This is another one-mint year but with two types available: Head of 1838 and Head of 1840. The former is far more available and can be obtained in nice EF without great difficulty. This is another issue I'd splurge on as it is a limited type with a novel design.
1840: The last of the three Philadelphia-only issues at the beginning of the set and a significant first-year coin. I've always liked the 1840 eagle and find it to be underrated. I'd buy a nice AU53 to AU58 for this set.
1841: This is the first year in which more than one mint made eagles as the New Orleans facility began production in 1841. The 1841-O is a really neat issue but it is rare and expensive, so I'd probably go with an 1841 Philadelphia. I'd choose a nice original AU55 to AU58 coin.
1842: Beginning this year, the collector can select from Philadelphia and New Orleans issues. In a year like 1842, both are reasonably common although the 1842-O becomes very rare in higher grades. I'd go with the 1842-O in the AU50 to AU55 range.
1843: Surprisingly, the Philadelphia eagle dated 1843 is scarcer than its high mintage New Orleans counterpart. I'd go with a nice Choice AU 1843.
1844: The little-known 1844 is actually a rare coin in all grades and a real stopper in AU50 and above. Thus, I'd go with the 1844-O and look for a nice mid-range AU that had good color and surfaces.
1845: Again, the Philadelphia eagle is rarer but the 1845 is not nearly as hard to locate as the 1844. I'd look for a nice 1845-P in the lower AU grades as I think this issue is very good value in this range.
1846: This is the last of the tougher date Philadelphia issues for the next decade+. I'd stick with a nice AU50 to AU55 and I'd be patient for one with good color and fewer marks than average. In my opinion, nice 1846-P eagles remain undervalued at current levels.
1847: Both the 1847-P and 1847-O are common issues. I'd go for a nice AU55 to AU58 example of the New Orleans coin.
1848: The 1848-O isn't really rare but it is a tough coin to locate above AU53 to AU55, especially with original color and surfaces. I'd look for a nice example, keeping in mind that all pieces known have weak overall strikes.
1849: I'm a big fan of the 1849-O eagle as a date and believe that nice examples in all grades above EF40 are much harder to locate than generally believed. The Philadelphia issue is affordable in grades up to and including MS61/62.
1850: There are two varieties of 1850-P eagle: the Small Date and the Large date. The former is much scarcer and it is very overlooked. I'd look for a nice mid-range AU example.
1851: Both the Philadelphia and New Orleans eagles from 1851 are fairly non-descript issues. I'd stick with an 1851-P and look for a pleasing AU58.
1852: The 1852-P is very common while the 1852-O is a scarce to rare issue. I like the latter quite a bit and would probably rather have a pleasing EF45 for the same price that I'd be spending on an MS60 to MS61 1852-P.
1853: The most interesting issue struck in 1853 is the 1853/2 overdate from Philadelphia. This is the only confirmed overdate in the entire Liberty Head eagle series and it is an underappreciated coin in all grades. I'd look for a nice AU50 to AU55.
1854: With the opening of the San Francisco mint, the number of facilities coining eagles grows to three in 1854. The 1854-S isn't a really scarce coin but it is a neat date and it is certainly the issue I'd choose to represent this year for my date set. Look for an AU50 to AU55 example with minimal bagmarks.
1855: Of the three eagles struck in 1855, the Philadelphia coin is common, the New Orleans coin is scarce and the San Francisco coin is rare. I would personally choose the 1855-O and I'd look for a coin in the EF45 to AU53 range.
1856: For this year, Philadelphia and San Francisco are common while the 1856-O is scarce to very scarce. I like the 1856-O eagle and would vote to include a choice EF45 to AU53 example in my year set.
1857: The mintage figures for all three issues are lower in 1857 than they were in the previous few years. The 1857-P is a sleeper that is still a good value in circulated grades while the 1857-O is undervalued. But I'd probably go with the 1857-S because of its historic association with the popular S.S. Central America double eagles dated 1857-S.
1858: The 1858-P is a famous rarity with just 2,521 struck. If you can find (and afford) a pleasing EF example, I'd strongly recommend including it in this set. The 1858-S is a rare coin as well. For practical purposes, you might want to pursue the more affordable 1858-O in AU50 to AU55.
1859: As this decade draws to a close, mintages continue to shrink. The 1859-P is fairly common while the 1859-O is very rare and the 1859-S is rare. To keep your powder dry for the rare coins that await in the 1860's, I'd suggest looking for a choice AU 1859-P.
1860: This is the final issue from New Orleans until 1879 so it seems natural to choose the 1860-O. The Philadelphia issue is common while the San Francisco issue is very rare. An 1860-O in AU50 to AU55 is affordable yet historic.
1861: Beginning with this year, we are back to two mints striking eagles: Philadelphia and San Francisco. The former is common while the latter is scarce to very scarce. I'd choose a nice AU58 to MS61 1861-P eagle as it is by far the most affordable Civil War issue.
1862: Until recently the 1862-P was an undiscovered sleeper but prices have risen as collectors learn of its true scarcity. The 1862-S is very rare and seldom seen above EF45. I'd stick with an Extremely Fine example of the 1862-P.
1863: This year is among the most challenging in this set as both issues are very rare. The Philadelphia eagle is a major rarity with just 1,248 examples produced. The San Francisco eagle has a mintage of 10,000 and it is more available. I'd stick with a nice EF example of the 1863-S but if a sensible 1863-P became available I'd consider it strongly as it is still very undervalued.
1864: Think the 1863 eagles were tough? Try the 1864. The 1864-P is rare with 3,580 struck while the 1864-S is one of the great rarities in the series with only 2,500 struck. You really can't go wrong with either coin for your set but as you as more likely to find an 1864-P than an 1864-S, I'd have to suggest going for the former. I'd splurge on this date and buy the nicest quality you can afford.
1865: Things don't get much easier in 1865. The Philadelphia issue is very rare while there are two varieties from San Francisco: the Normal Date and the Inverted Date. I'd choose the latter due to its "coolness factor" and the difficulty of locating the other issues. An EF40 to AU50 is going to be about the best you'll see for this year.
1866: This is a numismatically significant issue as it represents a transitional year. The San Francisco mint struck eagles with and without the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse while Philadelphia only made with motto coins. I'd opt for the rare 1866-S No Motto which had a mintage of only 8,500. Anything grading higher than EF45 will be very expensive.
So there you have it. A total of 28 issues make up the No Motto part of the Liberty Head eagle set. There are three mints to choose from for some years and only a few dates (the 1863, 1864 and 1865 in particular) that will be hard to find and high priced. Assuming you follow the suggestions for dates and grades that I made above, we are probably talking about an overall average per coin cost of around $4,000-5,000. This translates to a low cost of around $112,000 and a high cost of around $140,000. If you were to pick the most common issue for each date and stick with coins in the EF40 to AU50 range, this would probably lower the cost to less than $100,000.
In Part Two of this article, which will be published in February 2012, we will look at the 1867-1907 dates. We'll see the introduction of the Carson City mint, the resumption of the New Orleans mint, the short duration of the Denver mint...and we'll have a good ol' numismatic time.