Liberty Head Eagles and The Condition Census: Part One

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 $10.00 NGC AU58

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 $10.00 NGC AU55

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 $10.00 NGC AU55

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 $10.00 NGC AU55 CAC

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 $10.00 NGC AU53

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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Assembling A Year Set of Liberty Head Eagles: Part One, 1838-1866

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.