So...You've Decided to Collect San Francisco Gold Coins...

So...You've Decided to Collect San Francisco Gold Coins...

The San Francisco mint opened in 1854 and it made gold coins up through 1930. I have seen more interest in San Francisco gold coinage in the last five-ten years than I have at any other time in my numismatic career, and I feel that San Francisco gold coinage is an especially fascinating segment of the market.

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What's the "Next Big Thing" in Rare Date Gold? Five Suggestions:

What's the "Next Big Thing" in Rare Date Gold? Five Suggestions:

In the last decade, we have seen a number of Next Big Things in the rare date gold market. We’ve seen New Orleans double eagles and Carson City double eagles. We’ve seen Civil War issues, and we’ve seen No Motto San Francisco eagles. In most cases, we’ve seen big demand spikes and subsequent price increases in these areas. What could be the Next Big Thing and why? Here are five suggestions with explanations.

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The San Francisco Gold Coin Market: What's Hot, and What's Not

I’ve written a lot about the 19th century gold coinage from the San Francisco mint, but it’s been awhile since I’ve discussed the “heat factor” for the various types and denominations from this mint. Clearly, San Francisco gold has gone from “unloved” to “up and coming” in the last few years, but which specific series are hot and which are not? Let’s take a look at each series and let me share my thoughts with you.

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10 Undervalued, Affordable US Gold Coins from the Old West

Everyone likes good value when they buy coins, and more collectors than ever opt to buy coins from the two western branch mints located in Carson City and San Francisco. So why not write an article on said topic? And let’s double your enjoyment, dear reader, by selecting affordable coins in the $2,500-7,500 range; coins which are actually available from time to time, so that this guide is actually usable. In fact, let’s go whole hog crazy and even suggest the best value grades (BVG) for each issue!

And away we go….

1870-S $1.00 PCGS MS62 CAC

1. 1870-S Gold Dollar, MS62 to MS63

The 1870-S gold dollar is a numismatically significant coin as it is the final year in which this denomination was produced at the San Francisco mint. It is a low mintage issue with just 3,000 struck, and the coins which survive are pretty evenly spread out between the AU50 to MS63 range.

In MS62 to MS63, the 1870-S is quite a scarce coin but not an impossible one to find. An MS62 currently is valued in the $4,500-5,500 range, while a properly graded MS63 can be found in the $6,500-7,500 range.

I like this coin for a number of reasons. It is a low mintage issue which is one of just seven gold dollars made at the San Francisco mint. It also has “date appeal” due to the extreme rarity of its Big Brother, the unique 1870-S Three Dollar.

1861-S $2.50 NGC AU55

2. 1861-S Quarter Eagle, AU55 to AU58

Despite its status as a Civil War issue, the 1861-S is an overlooked scarcity in the Liberty Head quarter eagle series. Only 24,000 were struck and the survival rate of this issue is extremely low. There are likely fewer than 100 known today with most in the VF-EF range. Properly graded AU’s are very scarce, and this date becomes really rare in AU55 to AU58. I know of just two or three in Uncirculated, the finest of which is a PCGS MS62+ that I purchased for $25,300 in the Heritage 8/11 auction.

In AU55, an 1861-S quarter eagle will cost between $3,500 and $5,000+, depending on the quality. In AU58, the price range will run from around $6,000 to over $8,000 for a very choice piece.

This date is starting to show some signs of life, but I still feel it is much undervalued, especially in the higher AU grades.

3. 1879-S Quarter Eagle, MS61 to MS62

This date has been a favorite of mine for years and, I must admit, it was an issue that I once hoarded (but no longer do). It is numismatically significant as the last year of issue for quarter eagles from this mint, and it is scarcer than its mintage of 43,500 would suggest. While fairly easy to obtain in circulated grades, this issue is rare in Uncirculated with probably no more than 15 or so known. Despite its rarity, this issue remains affordable.

In MS61, the 1879-S quarter eagle can be purchased for $1,750 to $2,250. I’d actually recommend a potential buyer wait for a nice MS62—which is valued at $2,500 to $3,000—as said coin is likely to be nicer despite its small premium over a 61.

I doubt if this coin is likely to ever be regarded as “collectable” as others in this group of ten. But I am including it as I regard it as one of the best values available from the San Francisco mint.

4. 1855-S Three Dollar, AU50 to AU53

I have written about this date extensively and it remains among my very favorite dates in the Three Dollar series. It is numismatically significant as the first San Francisco issue of this denomination, and it is the rarest collectible Three Dollar piece from this mint. There are an estimated 300-400 known with most in lower grades. For the sake of not climbing above the $7,500/per coin limit we set for coins in this article, I am suggesting collectors focus on AU50 to AU53 examples, although I would suggest that an even higher grade coin would be a great addition to a set.

In AU50, an 1855-S three dollar is worth $4,500-5,500. In AU53, an example will sell for $5,000-6,500.

A quick buying hint or two: most 1855-S three dollars have been dipped or processed and naturally toned, choice pieces with good eye appeal are very scarce. Be patient and if you see the “right” coin don’t be afraid to pay a premium.

5. 1858-S Half Eagle, EF45 to AU50

Collectors are finally getting wise to the rarity—and excellent value—of the San Francisco half eagles. But most of their attention has been focused on the Civil War issues, meaning that certain dates struck before 1861 and after 1865 remain very under-priced. I could list a number of these but am going to focus on just one or two to keep this article a manageable length.

I like the 1858-S both in terms of its overall and high-grade rarity. It is unlikely that more than 50-60 are known from an original mintage of 18,600. This issue saw active use in local commerce and most survivors are in the VF-EF range.

If you can find a nice, original EF45 1858-S half eagle (it will be a challenge, I can promise you that!), it will cost in the area of $2,500 to $3,000. An AU50 will cost $4,000-5,000 and will present even more of a challenge.

A quick FYI: the 1859-S and 1860-S are two other San Francisco half eagles which are almost as tough as the 1858-S and both are affordable—and undervalued—as well.

6. 1881-CC Half Eagle, AU50 to AU53

With few exceptions, all of the 1870’s Carson City half eagles are scarce to rare, and most are out of the price range for coins in this article. The five CC half eagles produced during the 1880’s are more available but will prove challenging to the collector who likes choice, original coins.

The 1881-CC is the rarest post-1870’s half eagle from this mint. There are around 125-150 known in all grades, mostly in the EF40 to AU50 range. This issue is well produced and is known for pleasing color and luster. A nice quality AU50 should be buy-able in the $4,500-5,500 range, while an AU53 will set you back $5,500-6,500.

Buying hint: more and more CC half eagles from this era are being dipped-n-stripped, leaving sophisticated collectors with fewer available nice coins. Don’t be afraid to pay a premium for the “right” coin if you see it.

7. 1855-S Eagle, EF45 to AU50

The San Francisco mint began production of eagles in 1854 and many of the early issues are more available than one might think; at least in circulated grades. An exception to this is the 1855-S of which only 75 or so are known from the original mintage of just 9,000. In higher grades, this date is extremely rare and priced far out of the range which we have set. But rich guys shouldn’t have all the fun, right? You can still afford a nice 1855-S eagle even if the upper end of your coin budget is in the high four figures.

A nice EF45 example of this rare date will cost around $3,500 to $4,500 and enough exist to make this a real possibility for the collector. An AU50 will prove much harder to find and is likely to cost as much as $6,500-8,500 depending on the quality.

Another buying hint: virtually any San Francisco eagle struck prior to 1877 is highly undervalued and if you can locate nice pieces in the $2,500-7,500 range I’d buy them aggressively.

8. 1882-CC Eagle, AU53 to AU55

You need a big coin budget if you want to collect the Carson City eagles from the 1870’s as even the most available dates (1871-CC and 1874-CC) are big bucks in EF45 and above. But the issues from the 1880’s, while not as scarce, are still pretty good value and you can purchase a pretty scarce coin in a pretty impressive grade for not a whole lot of scratch.

My favorite later date CC eagle is the 1882-CC. Only 6,764 were made and this date is extremely hard to find in grades above AU55. An AU53 is currently priced in the $5,000-7,000 range while an AU55 will run $6,500-8,500.

Two other later date CC eagles also worth consideration are the 1883-CC and the 1893-CC; the former in AU53 to AU55 grades and the latter in AU55 to AU58.

9. 1895-S Eagle, MS61 to MS62

You take a risk when you buy post-1877 San Francisco gold coins as many were shipped to Europe or South America and are still being repatriated. I would be cautious of coins like the 1895-S but I think nice MS61’s are probably safe, given their current affordability.

Along with the 1894-S, the 1895-S is the key date in the later San Francisco Liberty Head eagles. It is pretty easy to locate in AU55 and AU58, but it is scarce in properly graded MS61, and very rare in MS62 and above. MS61 examples currently sell in the $2,500-3,500 range and given the fact that they have a PCGS population of just six in this grade with seven higher, they seem like great value. An MS62, if you can find one, will cost $5,500-7,500.

Remember, hoards of this date are a possibility so don’t spend your life savings cornering the market on Uncirculated 1895-S eagles.

1884-CC $20.00 NGC AU58 CAC

10. Common Date Carson City Double Eagles, Gem AU58

No area of the U.S. gold market has been more active in recent years than Carson City double eagles. We’ve seen dramatic price increases, especially for common dates in EF and AU grades. I can’t call any CC double eagle “undervalued” at current levels but I think “gem sliders” are the best value in this market.

Before I go further, let me explain what a “gem slider” is. It is a coin graded AU58 that is really choice with nearly no visible luster breaks, clean surfaces and pleasing natural color. Only a small percentage of coins graded AU58 by the services are “gems” for the grade.

Let’s look at a specific issue: the 1884-CC. It is common enough in circulated grades but it is becoming hard to locate in properly graded AU58. A gem slider coin in a 58 holder is currently worth around $7,500. Compare this to an average quality MS61 1884-CC which would easily bring $15,000-16,000 in the current market. Which seems like better value to you?

If you are going to play in the CC double eagle market, I suggest you look at really nice AU58’s (or even top quality AU55’s) as these represent the best value in a series in which your $2,500 to $7,500 per coin budget might no longer go as far as it once did.


This list could have easily been twenty or even thirty coins. Which issues did I leave off which you like? Please feel free to add your comments below.


Do you buy rare gold coins?

Do you have coins to sell?

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

Contact me, Doug Winter, directly at (214) 675-9897 or by email at

San Francisco Gold Coins with Numismatic Significance

If you read the coin descriptions on my website you will note that I often refer to a coin having what I term “numismatic significance.”  I’d like to explain and discuss this term, and then specifically apply it to gold coins from San Francisco.

The term “numismatic significance” is pretty straightforward. It refers to a coin which has indisputable importance for a collector. What are some of the ways in which this significance might manifest itself?

  • first year of issue
  • one year, or very limited, period of issuance
  • very low mintage figure
  • the rarest collectible issue of a popular type

Let's take a look at some of the San Francisco gold coins which, in my opinion, have numismatic significance.

1854-S $1.00 PCGS MS64 CAC

1. 1854-S Gold Dollar

The production of regular issue coins began at the San Francisco mint in 1854. Five denominations were made: the gold dollar, the quarter eagle and half eagle, the eagle, and the double eagle. Two of these (the quarter eagle and half eagle) are exceedingly rare. The most common of these first-year types is the 1854-S dollar.

A total of 14,632 gold dollars were struck at the San Francisco mint in 1854, and this issue is common and affordable in all circulated grades. There are as many as four or five dozen known in Uncirculated, with most in the MS60 to MS62 range. In MS63 this issue is scarce, and it is quite rare in MS64. There are two or three Gems known and the finest is a PCGS MS65+ in the Duckor collection, which was formerly in the Pittman collection.

I like this issue for a number of reasons. Obviously, it is a first-year-of-issue and it is also a one-year type; it is the only gold dollar from this mint which employs the Type One design. It tends to be very well made and it is probably the single best produced of all the gold dollars from this mint. If you can find a nice MS62 at the current going price of $4,000-5,000 I think this is excellent value and it seems like an issue with real upside potential.

1856-S $1.00 NGC MS64 CAC

2. 1856-S Gold Dollar

The decision to scrap the Type One design and replace it with the Indian Head Type Two design was not one of the mint’s shining successes. The design proved challenging to strike given the too-small size of the portrait and its placement opposite the highest spot on the reverse. It was quickly scrapped, but not before the San Francisco mint made 24,600 Type Two gold dollars dated 1856-S.

As with the 1854-S, this is an issue with two important items of numismatic significance. It is a first-year type and it is a one-year design. The same holds true for the 1855-C, 1855-D and 1855-O dollars, and all three issues are popular for the same reasons.

The 1856-S gold dollar is easily located in all circulated grades and with as many as three dozen known in Uncirculated, it can be found in the MS60 to MS62 range as well. It is very scarce in properly graded MS63, and very rare in MS64. I have never seen a piece which I graded MS65, and the finest I am aware of is a PCGS MS64 owned by Steve Duckor, which has been approved by CAC.

While values have increased for this date over the last decade, I still regard it as good overall value. A nice AU55 to AU58 can still be purchased for around $5,000, and $12,500 will buy you a very solid MS62.

1870-S $1.00 PCGS MS63

3. 1870-S Gold Dollar

I wasn’t going to add a third gold dollar to this list but there has always been something intriguing to me about this issue. The last San Francisco gold dollar had been struck in 1860 and production of branch issues ended in 1861 with the striking of the 1861-D. Yet for some reason, the mint decided to strike 3,000 gold dollars at the San Francisco mint in 1870. The uniqueness of this issue and its status as the final branch mint gold dollar from any mint gives the 1870-S dollar its numismatic significance. In addition, the 1870-S date is magical as it serves as a connection to the unique 1870-S three dollar.

The 1870-S dollar has an interesting grade distribution for its surviving population which is totally unlike the other four Type Three dollars from San Francisco. It is seen more often in Uncirculated than in circulated grades and there are actually some nice pieces known. I am aware of at least five or six Gems including a single PCGS MS66 and a PCGS MS65+ owned by Steve Duckor.

The 1870-S is probably a bit overvalued compared to the scarcer 1857-S, 1858-S, 1859-S, and 1860-S but it is an excellent value given its “coolness” factor. A nice MS62 is currently valued at around $5,000 while an MS63 is worth in the area of $7,500+.

1856-S $2.50 NGC MS61 CAC

4. 1856-S Quarter Eagle

The 1854-S is the first quarter eagle from this mint and it is a coin with great numismatic significance. But, it is extremely rare and very expensive and, for most readers of this article, it is not a coin likely to be added to their collection in the foreseeable future. This makes the 1856-S, the next quarter eagle from this mint (none were produced in 1855) the first-year-of-issue for most collectors.

Mintages for gold coins in San Francisco were relatively high in 1856 and 1857 due to strong demand, and 72,120 1856-S quarter eagle were made. There are a few hundred known today including a few Gems. The finest known 1856-S quarter eagle is a magnificent PCGS MS67 from the S.S. Central America which brought $46,000 in Christie’s 12/00 auction. It is the best San Francisco quarter eagle of any date which I have ever seen.

This issue doesn’t have the numismatic significance which many of the other coins on this list have. But it is the earliest available date of this denomination from San Francisco and this makes it a tangible relic of the Gold Rush.

1855-S $3.00 PCGS MS61

5. 1855-S Three Dollar

Three dollar gold pieces were produced at the San Francisco for just five years and one of these—the 1870-S—is unique. I think all of these San Francisco threes have numismatic significance but the date which I give the highest degree of multi-level demand to is the 1855-S.

The 1855-S is the first year of issue for San Francisco threes. Only 6,600 were made and of these as many as 400-500 are known, mostly in the EF40 to AU50 range. In higher grades, this issue is very rare and it is likely that the 1855-S is the only three dollar gold piece from this mint that actually saw heavy service in commerce. I am aware of three or four Uncirculated examples (plus a unique Proof) with the finest of these being a raw MS63 to MS64 in the Bass collection, currently housed in the ANA Museum.

The 1855-S can be lumped with the better-known 1854-O and 1854-D three dollar gold pieces as all are first-year-of-issues from the branch mint. The 1855-S, however, is not a one-year type as are its southern counterparts. That said, it is still a coin with real numismatic significance and it is a major rarity in Mint State.

1864-S $5.00 PCGS VF30

6. 1864-S Half Eagle

The excessively rare 1854-S is the half eagle which even the most well-heeled specialist in San Francisco gold coinage is likely to never own. The next rarest issue is the 1864-S and this is a coin with clear numismatic significance.

Only 3,888 were produced and this is the second lowest mintage of any half eagle from this mint after the 1854-S which had a run of only 268 pieces. There are an estimated 25-35 known in all grades including a Gem PCGS MS65+ which sold for $178,250 as Bass II: 1150 in October 1999.

The first really nice 1864-S half eagle to be available in close to a decade was recently sold as Heritage 3/14: 30328. Graded EF45 by NGC, it brought a strong $79,913; the same coin had last realized $31,050 in a July 2004 auction.

The numismatic significance of the 1864-S half eagle is a bit more obtuse than some of the other issues on this list, but it is perhaps the rarest coin listed here. The 1864-S is, along with the 1864-S eagle, the rarest obtainable gold coin from this mint. Its low mintage figure and Civil War issuance makes it appealing to a wider group of collectors than other rare San Francisco half eagles and it is a coin which I find greatly desirable.

1866-S No Motto $10.00 NGC AU58

7. 1866-S No Motto and With Motto Half Eagles

In 1866, the motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse of all United States silver and gold coins in which this design element could fit. The 1866-S No Motto and With Motto gold issues are known for half eagles, eagles and double eagles and these are popular with collectors for a variety of reasons. For reasons of space, we are going to focus on just the two half eagles but the comments made here apply equally to the other two denominations.

The reason for the two distinct varieties of 1866-S half eagle is decidedly low-tech. There were 9,000 1866-S half eagles with the old No Motto reverse produced before word could get to the San Francisco mint to changeover to the new With Motto design; 34,920 of the latter were struck.

The 1866-S No Motto half eagle is a bit less scarce than one might assume. But many of the 60-80 which exist are very well worn and this date is quite rare in properly graded AU. I have never seen a Mint State 1866-S No Motto half eagle and the finest known to me is a choice PCGS AU58 which brought $25,300 back in October 1999 as Bass II: 1155. The 1866-S With Motto, on the other hand, is rarer than its comparatively higher suggests. There are an estimated 70-90 known with a few more in EF and AU than its No Motto counterpart. But this date is also unknown in true Uncirculated (NGC has graded an MS61 which I feel is no better than AU58).

The 1866-S No Motto/With Motto gold coinage are the only transitional design pairs from the San Francisco mint. This makes these three sets numismatically significant and the rarity of the half eagles and eagles make higher grade assemblages extremely challenging.

8. 1930-S Eagle and Double Eagle

The 1930-S eagle and double eagle are the two final gold coins struck at the San Francisco mint. They are issues with a similar story: reasonably high mintages (96,000 for the former and 74,000 for the latter), almost none released for circulation, and extremely low survival rates.

The 1930-S is not only the last eagle made at the San Francisco mint, it is the only issue of this denomination made after 1920. Almost all of the original mintage was melted and of the 200-300 known, essentially all are Uncirculated. There are a number of Gems and the finest known is likely the Duckor/O’Neal PCGS MS67 which sold for $299,000 in Heritage’s January 2009 auction.

The San Francisco mint produced double eagles more actively in the 1920’s than they did eagles and the last issue prior to 1930 was the 1927-S. The 1930-S has the fourth lowest mintage of any St. Gaudens double eagle, but it is the rarest San Francisco issue and the rarest of the famous Fab Five late dates from this series. Probably no more than 60-70 are currently known, and nearly all are in Uncirculated and none appear to have been released by the Mint for general circulation. The Simpson Collection has a lovely PCGS MS66+ which is likely the finest known.

The 1930-S eagle and double eagle are coins which combine condition rarity with numismatic significance and they appeal to many collectors for these reasons.

1861-S Paquet $20.00 NGC AU53

9. 1861-S Paquet Reverse Double Eagle

A strong case can be made for terming this the rarest Type One double eagle from San Francisco (its only competitor is the 1866-S No Motto) and it is certainly an issue with multiple levels of demand. The Paquet reverse is noticeably different from the regular Longacre design with taller letters and a naked-eye “look” which is clear to even a neophyte collector.

The 1861-S Paquet was mostly unknown to collectors until the 1950’s when examples were located in Europe. It remains a very scarce coin although there are now an estimated 200-300 known, mostly in lower grades. I do not believe that a genuinely Uncirculated example is known, and I am aware of no more than two or three properly graded AU58 pieces.

For many years, this variety was undervalued and prices really only began to rise after it became well-publicized in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Values peaked around 2007-2008 then dropped, but have now climbed back. To own a really nice Paquet, you are looking at spending at least $75,000, and a Condition Census example is now worth upwards of $175,000-200,000.

I regard the 1861-S Paquet as the most numismatically significant double eagle from this mint and it is a coin whose level of demand in the Type One series is exceeded only by the rare 1854-O and 1856-O.


Do you buy rare gold coins?

Do you have coins to sell?

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

Contact me, Doug Winter, directly at (214) 675-9897 or by email at