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



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.

The Fab Five Type Three $20 Liberty Head Double Eagles

There are five ultra-low mintage Type Three Liberty Head double eagles that were produced for circulation during the 1880's and 1890's. These five issues have not necessarily received the attention that the so-called Fab Five late date St. Gaudens double eagles (the 1929, 1930-S, 1931, 1931-D and 1932) have but they are now popular with collectors and have risen dramatically in value over the last decade. The 1881, 1882, 1885, 1886 and 1891 double eagles have a combined mintage of just 5,911. There are a number of possible reasons as to why these issues were made in such limited quantities. The first is that the Philadelphia mint was primarily interested in making silver dollars in these years and a majority of their efforts went towards these coins. I don't find this plausible as mintage figures for other gold denominations during these years were high; as an example the mint made nearly four million eagles in 1881 alone. The second was that there was limited demand. This is certainly possible but it does not explain why mintage figures for double eagles during these years at the San Francisco mint tended to exceed one million per annum. Another reason is that the United States economy was slow or worse during most of these years.

In looking at these dates in terms of overall rarity (the total number known) and high grade rarity (rarity in AU50 and higher grades), I rank the Fab Five as follows:

I. Overall Rarity 1. 1882 2. 1881 3. 1886 4. 1891 5. 1885

II. High Grade Rarity

1. 1881 2. 1882 3. 1886 4. 1891 5. 1885

Let's take a look at each of these dates and discuss their overall and high grade rarity, Condition Census levels, the numbers graded by PCGS and NGC and record prices realized at auction.

I. 1881 Double Eagle

A total of 2,199 were struck of which an estimated three to four dozen exist today. There are none that I know of that grade lower than EF and around seven to ten are known in this grade range. The majority of the examples known are in the AU grades with around twenty-six to thirty-four accounted for.

I am aware of two in Uncirculated and they are as follows:

1. PCGS MS61. Heritage 4/09: 2762 ($120,750), ex Heritage 10/08: 3091 ($138,000), Heritage 1/07: 3203 ($138,000).

2. PCGS MS61. Heritage 6/04: 6363 ($57,500), probably ex Heritage 1997 ANA: 7843 ($29,325; where graded MS60 by PCGS).

The record auction price for this date is $138,000 which was set twice by the coin listed first in the Condition Census above. PCGS, as of December 2010, has graded 24 examples in all grades with just two in Uncirculated (both MS61). NGC has graded 19 in all grades with three in Uncirculated (an MS60 and two in MS61). I believe that the populations for AU coins are inflated by resubmissions. The 1881 is the rarest of the Fab Five is higher grades.

As I mentioned above, there are only two that I am aware of that grade Uncirculated. Of the two to three dozens AU that are known, most are lower end with heavy bagmarks and signs of circulation.

The 1881 is always found with below average surfaces and most have poor eye appeal as a result. Interestingly, despite this issue's low mintage figure, the luster is often frosty in texture; not the reflective prooflike finish that one might expect.

For many years, it was possible to purchase a very presentable EF to AU example in the $10,000-20,000 range. This is no longer the case, but it is still possible to buy an above-average 1881 double eagle for less than $60,000. I think this is incredible value, given the price levels of less rare (but more popular) Type I double eagles from New Orleans or better date CC double eagles.

II. 1882 Double Eagle

The 1882 is one of two business strike Liberty Head double eagles with an original mintage of less than 1,000 (the other is the 1885). It is the rarest of the Fab Five overall but I regard it as just a little less rare than the 1881 in high grades. To put the rarity of this date in perspective, it is rarer overall than the celebrated 1854-O and 1870-CC and comparable to the 1856-O.

There are either two or three known in Uncirculated and they are as follows:

NGC MS62. Sotheby's 10/01: 88 ($86,250), ex Dallas Bank Collection. It is likely that this coin was upgraded from a PCGS MS61 holder and may not have been removed from the PCGS population report.

PCGS MS61. There is a second coin graded MS61 by PCGS. It may be a second appearance of the Dallas Bank coin. PCGS MS60: Heritage 1/07: 3204.

The auction price record is $138,000 which was set by the PCGS MS60 coin listed above. The NGC MS62 would sell for more if it were to become available.

As of December 2010, PCGS had graded eighteen examples with seven in Extremely Fine, eight in About Uncirculated and three in Mint State. NGC had graded only tweleve with one in Extremely Fine, ten in About Uncirculated and one in Mint State. These figures are inflated, especially in AU grades.

Almost every example of this date that I have seen is very heavily abraded and has reflective surfaces which make the marks look even more pronounced. The 1882 is a true rarity in all grades and there are an estimated thirty to forty known. I think the grade distribution includes six to nine in Extremely Fine, twenty-two to twenty-eight in About Uncirculated and two to three in Uncirculated.

Prices for this date have risen considerably in the last few years as collectors have become aware of the real rarity of the 1882. A presentable example will cost in the area of $60,000-80,000 and a Condition Census piece might cost in excess of $100,000. In my opinion, this is still reasonable given the extreme rarity of this issue.

III. 1885 Double Eagle

The 1885 is the most curious of the Fab Five. It has a tiny mintage of 751 business strikes, the second lowest of this illustrious group. This coin is clearly very scarce but it is more available than one might expect and I regard it as the least rare of the Fab Five. It is also a date that has a slightly different grade distribution than, say, the 1882. The 1885 is more available in Uncirculated than the other four dates in this group and it is also seen in lower grades; showing that it did actually circulate to a degree.

I am aware of five Uncirculated examples which are as follows:

1. PCGS MS63. Bowers and Merena 2003 ANA: 4291 ($50,600)

2. NGC MS62. Heritage 6/08: 2332 ($103,500)

3. PCGS MS62. Heritage 6/08: 2333 ($86,250)

4. NGC MS61. Heritage 2007 FUN: 3738 ($63,250)

5. PCGS MS61. Heritage 10/09: 1754 ($57,500) As far as I am aware, these are all different coins. It is interesting to note that four of the five have appeared for sale within the last three years. These are not coins that are previously unknown. I believe that most--if not all--were coins that previously resided in About Uncirculated holders and were upgraded.

The current auction record for the 1885 double eagle is $103,500 which was set by Heritage 6/08: 2332. I am aware of at least one private treaty sale for a figure higher than this.

The eye appeal of this date tends to be better than the 1881, 1882 and 1886. It is a coin that is typically seen in About Uncirculated grades and with prooflike surfaces. Most are found with heavy marks but I know of a small number that are actually high end.

Aproximately sixty to eighty 1885 business strike double eagles are known. I can account for at least five in Uncirculated and feel that there may be a few more that qualify as such by today's standards. Around fifty to sixty exist in AU grades plus another six to ten in Extremely Fine and below.

The 1885 is the most affordable of the Fab Five. It is possible to buy a decent quality example in the $40,000-50,000 range. While I think this is an interesting and legitimately scarce coin, I don't think it is as good a value as the 1881, 1882 and 1886. That said, I would strongly advise purchasing an 1885 in AU55 or above at current price levels if the piece is choice and original.

IV. 1886 Double Eagle

A total of 1,000 business strikes were produced. I regard the 1886 as the third rarest overall of the Fab Five and the third rarest in high grades as well. I know of at least two that are Uncirculated. These are as follows:

1. PCGS MS63. Superior 10/92: 1612 ($45,100), ex Akers Auction '90: 1968 ($66,000).

2. PCGS MS61. Heritage 3/98: 6637 ($35,075), probably ex Stack's Miles sale.

A coin graded "MS65" appears on the NGC population but I would assume that this is a clerical error and that the coin does not exist.

The current auction record for a business strike 1886 double eagle is $86,623 which is held by a PCGS AU55 sold as Heritage 10/08: 3103. If an Uncirculated coin were to appear it would shatter this record with ease.

There are an estimated forty to fifty pieces known. I know of either two or three in Uncirculated as well as another two to three dozen in About Uncirculated and a dozen or so in Extremely Fine. The typical 1886 double eagle is a low end EF to AU that has heavily abraded surfaces and unappealing Prooflike luster. This date is exceedingly hard to find with good eye appeal and I can't recall the last piece I saw that was original and appealing.

An "entry level" example costs in the area of $60,000-70,000 and you can expect to spend closer to six figures (if not more) for a Condition Census level piece. I regard the 1886 as good value even at these current levels.

V. 1891 Double Eagle

The 1891 is the fourth most available of the Fab Five. There were only 1,390 business strikes made of which an estimated four to five dozen are known. I am aware of three of four Uncirculated, forty or so in About Uncirculated another ten to twelve in VF to EF grades.

The Uncirculated examples are as follows:

PCGS MS64 (this coin also appears in the NGC population as MS64): Heritage 1/05: 30540 ($155,250), ex Sotheby's 10/11: 111 ($80,500), Dallas Bank collection.

PCGS MS63: Heritage 1/10: 2267 ($138,000), ex Stack's 1/08: 9211 ($115,000).

PCGS MS 61: I do not know the pedigree of this coin.

The auction record for the 1891 double eagle is $155,250 set by the PCGS MS64 listed above. In my opinion, this is among the single most significant Type Three double eagles of any date. It is a magnificent coin that combines rarity and great appearance.

The 1891 double eagle is usually seen in th EF45 to AU55 range and it is characterized by deeply reflective prooflike surfaces. Most examples are heavily abraded although a few choice, clean examples are known.

Price levels on this date were reasonable for many years and I can remember selling nice AU examples for well under $20,000 at the beginning of this decade. Today, such a coin will cost double or triple this amount but I still believe that the 1891 is good value at current levels.

I'd like to thank my good friend Paul Nugget of Spectrum Numismatics for his input on the rarity rankings of these double eagles.

If you have an interest in the Fab Five and would like to discuss them in greater detail feel free to email me at

A Quick Look at the Current Market for Type One Double Eagles

How's the market doing for Type One double eagles? Good question and one that I feel well-qualified to answer, having been a very active participant in this market for over two decades. We've had a lot of interesting external factors shape the Type One market in the last few years. Naturally, the severe economic conditions of 2007-2009 had a profound influence; especially at the high end of the market. And even if the economy had been strong there's a chance that prices for rarities might have slowed down on their own, given the extreme rise in prices we had seen in the Type One market for the previous five years. It was natural that there would be some profit taking; what I didn't expect was some of the forced sales we saw in 2007 and 2008.

And then there is the X factor in the Type One market: the incredible run-up in gold prices that has seen metal prices top $1,200 per ounce, and the associated pressures on supply that this has brought with it.

All that said, I'm pretty amazed at how strong this segment of the market is right now. In my mind, there is no question that most Type One double eagles valued at less than $5,000 are in greater demand than I can ever remember. I also think that prices are about as strong as I can recall for these coins. If you look at recent auction, nearly all decent quality EF45 to AU58 Type One double eagles are bringing in excess of Trends (more on pricing in a second...) and these coins are typically selling at auction to dealers; not necessarily end-user collectors.

The coins priced at $5,000-20,000 are generally quite strong as well, although not as much so as at the lower price point. The key factors for Type One double eagles in this price range are: eye appeal, eye appeal, eye appeal and the "sexiness" of the date. This is clearly a collector-oriented market and really pretty coins (i.e., those that are not excessively bagmarked, those that are not all bright and shiny and those that are well-made) are in great demand. Average and below-average quality coins still sell; especially if they are useful dates. But they do not bring the premium prices that the nice coins bring.

The real weakness in this market a few years ago was with the expensive coins. As I touched on above the reasons for this were twofold. When the world economy seemed to be melting down, people weren't all that crazy about dropping $50,000 on a coin. And prices had risen so much on many of the key issues that many market participants wondered if certain key issues were still good values at the levels they had risen to.

Before addressing some specific areas in the market, I mentioned earlier about difficulties with pricing. Coin World Trends ability to keep up with this area in the market appears to not be as good as it was before and many Type One issues now sell for over Trends. This is particularly true with less expensive coins in circulated grades.

Let's look at how the coins from each of the three mints are doing.

New Orleans: If you bought good quality New Orleans double eagles at any time before 2005, pat yourself on the back. You are in a profit position and, in some cases, you are in a huge profit position. New Orleans Type One coins remain strong but not as robust as they were in 2005-2007. The dates that I see some weakness in right now are the 1857-O and 1858-O and, to a lesser extent, the 1859-O and 1860-O. The former seem a bit weak due to the fact that a number of coins in the AU grades have been available and these are two of the few Type One issues where supply seems able to keep up with demand. The latter have cooled off as a result of the fact that some truly awful AU coins have sold slightly cheaply at auction. Very nice AU55 and AU58 1859-O and 1860-O double eagles are extremely rare and choice, properly graded examples will bring well in excess of what the schlocky auction pieces have realized. It is interesting to note that few 1854-O and 1856-O double eagles have traded in the last year or two. I heard through the grapevine that an NGC AU55 1854-O traded for over $600,000 between dealers at the recent Long Beach show. If this is true then, it appears, the market for this ultra-rarity is just fine, thank you.

Philadelphia: I'd have to say that the better date Philadelphia Type Ones are the coins du jour in this series right now. The specific coins that seem to be in real demand are the 1854 Small Date, 1855, 1856, 1857 and 1858. Nice AU examples of these five issues are still buy-able at less than $5,000 and offer alot of bang for the Type One buck. The 1850 is as popular as ever due to its first-year status and the common 1851-1853 issues are in real demand in Uncirculated due to the fact that they are still reasonably priced and occasionally available. The two key issues from this mint, the 1854 Large Date and the 1859, have really come into there own in the last year. I personally love the latter issue and think it is still hugely undervalued in all grades from Very Fine to Mint State. If I were a betting man (and as a coin dealer, I obviously qualify as such) I would say that the Civil War issues will be exceptionally active in the next few years, given the 150th anniversary of the beginning of that conflict is in 2011. The 1862 is already an expensive, well-recognized issue and the 1863 is well-known but the 1864 and 1865 are affordable in circulated grades and seem like good values right now.

San Francisco: In all other denominations, the San Francisco coins lag the other branch mints in popularity. This is not the case in the Type One series where the San Francisco coins are quite popular. We can attribute this, of course, to the shipwreck coins which have been a blessing to the market and which have have made many new collectors aware of and interested in other San Francisco double eagles of this era. The post-shipwreck dates (1858-S, 1859-S, 1860-S, 1861-S) are very popular right now and appear to be bringing close to or even above Trends in AU55 and AU58. The few sales records for Uncirculated pieces in the last year have been very strong and they seem to be consistently at levels higher than 2006-2008. Two interesting individual dates to look at quickly are the 1861-S Paquet and the 1866-S No Motto. For many years these were greatly undervalued and I can remember imploring collectors to buy them at $10,000-20,000 in the early part of the 2000's. They soared in price then came down quite a bit in 2007 and 2008. After being unobtainable in Choice AU for many years, there were a lot of over graded, marginal pieces for sale. I've noticed that there are two very distinct markets for these two issues: the market for low-end pieces and the market for choice, CAC-quality pieces.

I believe that we will continue to see a very strong market for Type One double eagles in the coming years. These coins are big, they contain nearly an ounce of gold, they have a great story behind them and there are still a lot of different dates that can be bought for under $5,000 per coin. I am as bullish on Type One double eagles as on any coin in the market right now.