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

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

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

1865 $20.00 NGC MS66★, approved by CAC

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

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

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

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

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

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

1865 $20.00 NGC MS66★, approved by CAC

1865 $20.00 NGC MS66★, approved by CAC

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


1865-S $20.00 NGC MS63 S.S. Republic CAC

S.S. Republic pedigree. Small S variety. There are a number of amazing, high grade 1865-S double eagles known from two wrecks: the S.S. Brother Jonathan and the S.S. Republic. I prefer the look of the coins from the latter as the Bro Jo coins tend to have very heavily matte-like surfaces from exposure to seawater while the Republic coins have a far more original appearance. This piece is among the best looking 1865-S double eagles that I have seen with wonderful luster and just a small number of marks on the surface. A small amount of mint-made porosity near star six is what probably caused NGC to be very conservative when grading this coin but it has the naked-eye appearance of an MS64; if not a Gem. There are a total of 51 MS63's from this wreck for the date but only eleven have been graded higher which makes it a harder coin to find nice than its counterpart from the Brother Jonathan. A perfect coin for the double eagle collector who wants one choice, interesting coin from each of the major shipwrecks.

1858 $20.00 SS Republic NGC MS62

As a rule I am not a huge fan of shipwreck gold coins but this piece is exceptional, both from the standpoint of appearance and rarity. The surfaces of this piece showe virtually no signs of exposure to seawater and are bright with a great degree of vibrancy. The "meat" on this coin suggests an MS63 grade but there are just a few too many scuffs in the obverse fields. For the sake of identification, there is a small barely noticeable grease stain on the obverse hanging off the lowest curls. This is one of just two MS62 1858 double eagles salvaged from the S.S. Republic; the other, sold as Bowers and Merena 4/05: 2015, brought $21,275 at a time when important high grade shipwreck coins were not as avidly collected as they are today. If you collect shipwreck double eagles or are looking for an important Condition Census example of this conditionally scarcer date, consider adding this impressive 1858 to your holdings.

This is one of just two 1858 double eagles graded MS62 found on the S.S. Republic. Noe were graded higher than this.

The State of the Liberty Head Double Eagle Market: 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Market For Rare Date Liberty Head Double Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Shipwreck Coins

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Tracking the Market by The 1856-O Specimen

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

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

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

7. Tracking the Middle Market

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

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

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

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

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

8. In Conclusion: What does the Future Hold?

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

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

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

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

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

Philadelphia Type One Double Eagles

Since the publication of my book “The Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type 1 Double Eagles” in 2002, this has been one of the strongest and most avidly collected areas in the entire U.S. coin market. I think this is the case for three reasons:

1. Size: New collectors can relate to big, attractive coins and Type One double eagles are exactly the sort of coins that are easy for dealers to sell (and for collectors to buy).

2. Shipwrecks: The discovery of the S.S. Central America and S.S. Republic shipwrecks added a tremendous shot in the arm to this market. Many collectors were first attracted to Type One double eagles by the shipwreck coins but found the series interesting enough that they decided to collect more extensively.

3. Story: There is an incredible amount of history inherent in the Type One series. The 1850-1865 era is pivotal in the story of the United States and this has also attracted many collectors to the Type One series.

I am personally very attracted to the Philadelphia Type One issues. These issues do not get the publicity that the branch mint coins do and, as a result, they remain undervalued. Here is a date-by-date analysis for beginning collectors that, hopefully, will be useful.

1850: This issue is in heavy demand due to its status as a first-year-of-issue. I used to think it was undervalued but now I think it is fully priced, especially in the AU55 to MS62 range. There are as many as 3,000+ known with 50-100 in Uncirculated. There are actually two Gems graded MS65 and another half dozen or so that I grade MS63 to MS64. The current record price was set by Heritage 1/07: 3698, graded MS65 by NGC, which brought a healthy $161,000. Collectors should be patient when looking for an 1850 as there are some very pleasing pieces available.

1851: Over two million were struck but this date is a bit more difficult to locate than most people realize, especially in higher grades. There are an estimated 100-150 known in Uncirculated. I have never seen or heard of a Gem but have known of two or three that grade MS64. Most 1851 double eagles are grainy in appearance with very “choppy” surfaces. However, there are a number of frosty, lightly abraded coins known and the collector would do well to wait for such a piece to appear.

1852: The 1852 is similar in rarity to the 1851 except that it is a bit more available in Uncirculated. Nearly every known example is very heavily abraded and many have inferior grainy luster. Some lightly abraded, frosty pieces are known and I feel that these are desirable and worth a premium. There is a single example in MS65 (graded by NGC) but I have never seen an 1852 that I regarded as a Gem. I have, however, seen at least four or five very nice MS64’s. This date is an excellent choice for novice collectors as it tends to be well-made and affordable.

1853: The 1853 is similar in rarity to the 1851 and 1852 even though it has a lower mintage. I estimate that there are 1750-2250 known but most are in circulated grades and the 1853 is much scarcer in Uncirculated than the 1851 and 1852. I think there are around 30-40 known in Uncirculated and most are in the MS60 to MS62 range. The best I have seen is the NGC MS64 (which I now believe is in an MS65 holder) that was sold in the Superior 5/05 auction for $66,700.

There is also an 1853/2 overdate that is controversial but accepted as such by both PCGS and NGC. It is clearly identifiable by a small raised die dot below the R in LIBERTY. This variety is generally seen in EF and AU grades and from the standpoint of availability it is the rarest Philadelphia double eagle of this type. It is the second rarest in Uncirculated, trailing only the 1859. I am aware of less than a half dozen in Uncirculated and all are in the MS60 to MS62 range.

1854: The 1854 is not a really scarce date in lower grades but it remains scarce and undervalued in AU58 and above. There are an estimated 25-50 in Uncirculated including an MS64 and MS65 at PCGS. The record price for an 1854 is $96,600 which was set by Bowers and Merena 9/08: 831, graded MS64 by NGC. Finding examples with good luster and decent surfaces is very difficult as most are somewhat dull and very heavily abraded.

There are a number of interesting varieties for the year but the most widely collected is the 1854 Large Date. This issue is rare in all grades and it is very rare in Uncirculated. For more information about this variety, refer to the blog I wrote about Type One varieties dated March 30, 2009.

1855: I am a big fan of this date and it is an issue that I have always believed was rarer than its original mintage would suggest. There are around 1,000 known but just 15-20 qualify as Uncirculated. The best I have seen was a PCGS MS63 (later upgraded to MS64) that was ex: ANR 8/06: 1607. It brought $69,000 and was purchased by a well-known Midwestern collector. The 1855 is really hard to find with good eye appeal as most have been cleaned or dipped and exhibit severe abrasions. Pieces that show good luster, original color and minimal marks are very scarce and typically bring strong premiums over the usual “schlock” offered for sale.

1856: This is another sleeper date that I have been writing about for many years. There are an estimated 500-600+ known with most in the VF to EF range. Any 1856 double eagle that grades AU55 or better is very scarce and this date is quite rare in Uncirculated with just 15-25 accounted for. I have only seen one or two that I graded MS63 and another half dozen or so that I thought graded MS62. An auction record was set by Bowers and Merena 1/08: 584, an NGC MS63 example that was bid up to $27,600. Most 1856 double eagles are very heavily scuffed and the vast majority have unoriginal coloration. Finding an example with good eye appeal is quite a challenge and even though price levels have risen quite a bit for the 1856 in the last few years, I think nice pieces are still vastly underpriced.

1857: For many years, the 1857 was regarded as a common date and lumped with the 1851-1853 issues. We now know that this is not true and my best estimate is that only 900-1200+ are known. The 1857 is more available in higher grades than the 1855 and 1856 with as many as 30-50 known. I have seen two that grade MS64 and another two or three in MS63. Many 1857 double eagles show a below average strike and most have poor luster and very heavily bagmarked surfaces. It has become very hard to locate a piece with original color as well. In my opinion, the 1857 remains undervalued, especially in AU55 and higher grades.

1858: With a mintage figure that is less than half that of the 1857, one would expect the 1858 to be a much scarcer date. These two issues are similar in terms of overall rarity but the 1858 is scarcer in high grades. There are just twenty to thirty known in Uncirculated and I have never seen a piece that graded higher than MS63. Eye appeal is a real problem for the 1858 double eagle and the typical example is somewhat softly struck, subdued in appearance and heavily bagmarked. The price of this date in AU and above has risen in the last few years but I feel the 1858 double eagle is still an excellent value as it possible to purchase a very presentable example for less than $5,000.

1859: When my Type One book was published, I stated that the 1859 was the fourth rarest Type One double eagle from the Philadelphia mint. Because of the aforementioned shipwrecks and other hoards, I now think that the 1859 could well be the rarest Type One from this mint. And if it isn’t the rarest, it is certainly the hardest issue to locate with good eye appeal in higher grades. Virtually every 1859 double eagle I have seen is very heavily abraded and these marks are often in prime focal points such as the left obverse field or on the face of Liberty. While the strike tends to be good, the level of eye appeal is nearly always well below average. I believe that there are around 200-250 known including five to seven in Uncirculated. I have only seen one in MS62 and another three in MS61.

1860: The 1860 is a date that is actually a bit more available than one might expect considering its mintage of 577,670. There are an estimated 2,000 known including as many as 100 in Uncirculated. PCGS has graded one in MS65 and NGC graded the finest of the S.S. Republic coins MS65 as well. This is generally a well-produced year and there are still some examples around that have nice color and good luster. The 1860 tends to come with fewer bagmarks than some of the issues from the mid-to-late 1850’s and the collector should be able to find a pleasing piece if he is patient.

1861: Until the discovery of the S.S. Central America treasure, the 1861 was easily the most common Type One double eagle. Today, it is the second most available after the 1857-S. There are at least 4,000-5,000 known and the actual number could be even higher. This is an easy issue to locate in higher grades with coins in MS61, MS62 and even MS63 sometimes available. As such, it makes a good type coin for the collector who prefers a Type One double eagle that is not from a shipwreck. The finest known is an amazing PCGS MS67 that brought $181,500 all the way back in October 1989 when it was sold at auction. I still regard that coin as the single best business strike regular issue Type One double eagle that I have seen.

1862: For many years, the 1862 was a sleeper date that had attained virtual cult status among the small number of people who collected Type One double eagles. Today, its rarity is better known and its value has increased accordingly. I regard it, along with the 1859, as one of the two hardest Philadelphia issues of this type to find although it is more available in higher grades than its counterpart. This is another date for which eye appeal is a problem. Many 1862 double eagles have very heavily abraded surfaces and the luster is sometimes impaired as a result. There are around a dozen or so known in Uncirculated. This includes a solitary NGC MS64 and a combined four in MS63 between PCGS and NGC. The 1862 remains an extremely challenging issue to locate in all grades and it should prove to be one of the tougher holes to fill in any Type One set.

1863: Until the discovery of a number of higher grade examples in the S.S. Republic treasure, high grade examples of the 1863 were extremely rare. Today there are around three dozen known in Uncirculated including one in MS64 and four in MS63. The eye appeal of this date tends to be significantly better than that seen on the 1862. The 1863 is reasonably well struck and original examples show very nice coloration. Many have been cleaned at one time and I have seen more “no grade” examples of this date than nearly any other Type One double eagle from the Civil War era. The coins from the shipwreck have a very unique (and cosmetically appealing) appearance that makes them easy to distinguish from non-shipwreck coins. They tend to have somewhat grainy luster and lack the extensive marks found on most 1863 double eagles.

1864: There are many more 1864 double eagles known today than back when I produced my Type One book. The majority of the new high grade 1864’s are from the S.S. Republic shipwreck which contained at least seventeen Uncirculated examples. Most were in the MS60 to MS62 range and the 1864 remains extremely rare in MS63 or better. Non-shipwreck examples tend to be a bit scuffy in appearance and have frosty luster. From time to time, original pieces are offered for sale and they tend to show attractive deep green-gold or orange hues. In my opinion, the 1864 remains a scarce and undervalued date that does not receive the attention that the (now) better known 1862 and 1863 are showered with.

1865: Close to three hundred Uncirculated 1865 double eagles were found on the S.S. Republic. Obviously, the rarity profile of this date has changed dramatically in recent years and the 1865 has gone from being very rare in higher grade to reasonably common. Some of the coins from the shipwreck were quite spectacular and the best pieces include one in MS66 and no less than two dozen in MS65.

What exactly is it about the Philadelphia Type One issues that appeals most to me? I would have to say that it is value. Unlike smaller denomination coins from this era, there is enough demand for double eagles that there are not many absurdly undervalued issues. But that said, there are a number of Philadelphia double eagles from the 1850’s that can be obtained in decidedly above average condition (in most cases AU55 to AU58) for well under $5,000. I also like the fact that the Philadelphia issues are completable by the collector of average means (unlike the New Orleans coins of this era which have become the playground of wealthy collectors). If I were going to focus on Type Ones, I would work on a set of nicely-matched AU55 to AU58 coins with choice original color and surfaces.

For more information about Type One double eagles, please feel free to contact me via email at

The 1854-S Type One Double Eagle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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