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.Read More
There are numerous San Francisco which are well known for their typically ratty appearance. This blog is not about these issues; it is about some of the seemingly more available issues which—in my experience—are surprisingly difficult to locate with good eye appeal.Read More
The City by the Bay gets my vote as by far the nicest city in which the U.S. Mint ever struck coins.
San Francisco is a cultural hotspot with museums galore and a long history of supporting the arts. It relishes its history, isn't afraid of it's somewhat sketchy past, and is home to more upscale, artsy residents per capita than probably anywhere else in the country. It should be a hotspot for collecting and its 19th century gold coinage should be as — or more popular — than its Podunk Western cousin, Carson City, right?
Actually it's not. San Francisco gold gets (relatively) no love from coin collectors. It's not a great coin town and, curiously, there are far fewer collectors for San Francisco gold coins than one would expect. This market is finally beginning to show some legs but it is still far less popular than I think it should be.
I think there are a lot of reasons. some clear and obvious, some far-fetched and obtuse. Let's look at a few reasons why San Francisco gold coins aren't that popular (yet), what the current trends in the market are and what the future holds for these issues from the Barbary Coast.
1. There Are "Too Many" Issues
San Francisco produced gold coins with virtually no interruptions from 1854 through 1916 and, sporadically in the 1920's and early 1930's. This is the longest production run of any branch mint and only the Philadelphia mint struck more coins during this time period.
Clearly, there are a lot of gold coins struck at the San Francisco and not all of them are "interesting." This is a contrast to the southern mints of Charlotte and Dahlonega which had shorter production runs and from which every coin has some degree of numismatic scarcity and desirability. The pre-1879 San Francisco Liberty Head gold coins tend to be far more interesting than their post-1879 counterparts and, admittedly, these later issues tend to be viewed as a group which sort of just drags on and on.
This plethora of issues tends to intimidate the novice collector. To state, "I'm a collector of San Francisco gold," entails denominations ranging from gold dollars to double eagles and, quite frankly, this is intimidating. It is important for the potential San Francisco collector to immediately become a specialist and focus on either one denomination or a subset (i.e., No Motto half eagles from this mint).
Which brings us to the all-important point number two...
2. There's No Reference Book on San Francisco Gold Coinage
Reference books exist on virtually all the mints that struck U.S. gold coins and specialized books by Bowers, Dannreuther, Akers, Goe and others cover early gold, certain non-southern branch mints. But, to date, there is no single specialized reference work on San Francisco gold.
For years, I've given this project strong consideration but the amount of work it will take to write a San Francisco gold coin book is staggering. And it's a real Catch-22: the market will be jumpstarted by said book but who wants to spend the time, effort and money to undertake this project when it will probably sell 500 copies and go overlooked? It's truly a labor of love and the handful of dealers that I think are qualified to write such a book (myself included) are probably too busy buying and selling coins to pen a 400-500 page opus on SF gold.
Until a good standard reference book on these coins is published, the market is destined to trail areas such as Carson City, Charlotte, Dahlonega and New Orleans.
3. There's No Marketmaker(s) In This Series
If you want to buy a nice Dahlonega half eagle, there is a small but stable core of suppliers that collectors know where to turn to. Same with Type One double eagles, Proof gold and early gold, to name a few. But who is an iconic marketmarker for San Francisco half eagles; a dealer you know is always going to have a nice date run of Civil War era coins or some Gem semi-scarce issues from the 1880's and 1890's? At this point, there is no one dealer who is "Mr. San Francisco gold."
Ironically, there has been some exceptional marketing in one area of the San Francisco coin market: Type One and Type Three double eagles. The former has been the domain of a West Coast firm for over a decade and it began as an off-shoot of the S.S. Central America shipwreck. They had a brainstorm many years ago which proved prescient: you buy a gorgeous 1857-S double eagle in MS64 or MS65 and you get hooked; the next logical step is a date set of Type One double eagles from this mint. That's why coins like the 1854-S, 1861-S Paquet Reverse and the 1866-S No Motto have tripled in value in the last decade.
If this West Coast marketer started to focus on San Francisco gold which complimented its double eagle focus, it might be a huge shot in the arm for these coins. If a collector bought a nice 1857-S double eagle, wouldn't he want to assemble a date set of 1857-S gold? In theory yes but there is one problem. While there are thousands of Gem and Superb 1857-S double eagles available, all the other denominations from this year are rare to very rare in Uncirculated and non-existent in Gem. How do you explain to a new collector that the AU58 1857-S eagle he is being offered to go with his 1857-S double eagle in MS65 is the best available coin for that denomination?
4. Modern Coins Have Hurt the "Unusual Date" San Francisco Market
A coin like an 1864-S eagle is clearly a "rare date" issue with an avid collector base. And a 1901-S eagle is clearly a "generic" issue which is bought and sold like a commodity by investors and investor-collector hybrids. Then there coins like, say, an 1883-S eagle which is not really a rare coin but is clearly not a common generic issue. I sort of jokingly refer to these as "unusual dates."
Before modern coins became popular, "unusual date" San Francisco gold was popular with marketers and it might sell for a 20%, 30% or even a 40+% premium over common dates. The sales pitch was easy to make: here is a coin which is fifty times more rarer than a generic issue for just a 30% premium. It made sense.
But today, most of the firms that would sell these "unusual dates" are focused on moderns where the supply is unlimited and the margin are consistent. And this has not only destroyed the market premium for a coin like an 1883-S eagle in MS62, it has hurt the ability for a coin like the 1883-S to be used an entry portal into the rarer coins from this mint, like the 1864-S eagle.
If a few of the firms which used to sell "unusual date" San Francisco gold would resume their programs, this might be good for the long-term health of the market.
5. One Of The Horses Has To Finish Last In The Race....
If we throw out Denver as a branch mint (because it's my blog, I get to make the rules) that leaves us with five branch mints. One has to be the most popular (I'm going to give that honor to Carson City although I could see a case for Dahlonega and one has to be the least popular. To paraphrase the immortal words of my high school baseball coach, "in a horse race, one of the animals has to finish last."
But if one branch mint has to finish last in a Numismatic Popularity Contest, why San Francisco? With all the newly created wealth in Northern California from nerd-centric professions such as engineering, entrepreneurship, social media, etc. one has to wonder if the time is coming for San Francisco gold coins.
Interestingly, a few of my newer clients are in their 30's, have made a good deal of money from Internet or tech-related businesses and are from the bay Area or Silicon Valley. They are very attracted to SF gold and when they "run the numbers" (as you would expect a Tech Wonk to do) they quickly conclude that these issues seem like great value when compared to southern gold.
So could this be the future of the San Francisco gold market? Hard to say but if these few new collectors are any indication and at least one or two of the problems listed above is addressed, than we may be seeing a strong new market developing right before our very eyes.
Are you interested in San Francisco gold coinage? Would you like to assemble a world-class collection of gold from this mint? Whether you are Mark Zuckerberg or Mark the Dude from Around the Block, I can help! Please feel free to email me directly at email@example.com to discuss your new San Francisco gold collection!
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.
Collector K.U. recently asked me to help him construct a compact, meaningful list of San Francisco gold coins to form the basis of his collection. The parameters were as follows: the dates selected must have historic and/or numismatic significance, they must be selected for being the best value grade for the issue in question and, where possible, they should be dated around the Civil War era or earlier. I gave this list some thought and tried to narrow down the list to a dozen or so coins. I eliminated the 1854-S quarter eagle due to financial considerations and the 1854-S five dollar due to realism. I then tried to include at least one example of each of the six denominations of gold coins struck at the SF mint and, because of the collector's taste, limited the set to those issues struck in the 19th century. (I might have included the 1920-S eagle and a rare date Saint or two if the list had been longer...)
As I've pointed out before, San Francisco gold coinage of the Liberty Head design can basically be divided into two groups: the "golden era" issues struck from 1854 through around 1878 and the other issues made from 1878 until the new 20th century designs were incorporated in 1908. I personally find the former much more interesting due to their low mintages, the fact that they tended to be actively used in commerce and are thus often exceedingly rare in higher grades and their low overall survival rates.
Without further ado, here is the list:
1. 1854-S Gold Dollar: In my opinion, one of the ways in which to make this set more interesting was to include as many first year of issue coins as possible. The 1854-S is an ideal choice for inclusion in this set given its first-year status. With a mintage of 14,632 this is not really a scarce coin but it is not really easy to locate in higher grades. I am fond of the 1854-S because it tends to be much better made than the other branch mint gold dollars of this era and I find it to be quite undervalued. A nice Uncirculated example could be located in the $5,000-7,500 range and for the collector on a more limited budget, it is possible to acquire a really solid AU 1854-S dollar for less than $2,000.
2. 1856-S Gold Dollar: I wasn't originally going a second gold dollar in the set but the numismatic significance of this issue is hard to overlook. The 1856-S is the only Type Two gold dollar from this mint and it is also the only Type Two from any mint that was made in 1856; a transitional year in which the new Type Three design was struck at the Philadelphia and Dahlonega mints. The 1856-S is fairly easy to locate in lower grades and becomes rare only once the MS62 to MS63 level is reached. Many examples show a dramatically double punched mintmark which doesn't add value but which does increase the "coolness" factor exponentially. A choice circulated example can be purchased for $3,000 to $5,000 while a nice Uncirculated piece has become a bit pricey at $7,500-15,000 and up.
3. 1862-S Quarter Eagle: The obvious picks for quarter eagles are not so obvious. The 1854-S is out of the question due to its hefty price and the next few "early dates" (the 1856-S and 1857-S) aren't that interesting. So, given the collector's interest in Civil War issues, I selected the rarest Civil War quarter eagle from this mint: the 1862-S. Only 8,000 were produced and I have found the 1862-S to be a tough, elusive coin that is still not entirely recognized by rare date gold collectors. I've only handled one Uncirculated 1862-S in 25+ years of buying choice SF gold (the finest known PCGS MS63+ I purchased in the February 2012 Goldberg sale for $43,250) and know of just one or two others. A nice EF example, when available, is still affordable (in the $2,500-3,500 range). A mid-range AU is hard to find but still not priced at more than $5,000-7,500.
4. Scarcer Date 1870's Quarter Eagle in Uncirculated: You can't have just one quarter eagle in this set, right? But there really isn't a date from the post-Civil war era that stands out to me so my suggestion is to buy a better date issue from the 1870's (such as the 1871-S or 1872-S) in MS62 or MS63. These coins are legitimately scarce in this grade (with on order of five to ten known) but are not that expensive with prices ranging from around $4,500 up to $7,500 and more. What I like about these types of coins is that they tend to be well made, attractive and there are very few known in grades higher than MS63. A few sleeper dates are known and these include the 1870-S, 1873-S and 1876-S but even these aren't terribly expensive...yet.
5. 1855-S Three Dollar: To be varied and complete, this set needs a Three Dollar gold piece so why not include the first-year-of-issue 1855-S? Only 6,600 examples were made but this issue is generally available in EF and AU grades. And prices remain very reasonable for this issue, despite its numismatic significance. I recently sold a choice, original EF45 with CAC approval in the mid-3's and also sold a decent PCGS AU55 in the low 10's. In high grades, the 1855-S becomes very rare and I am aware of only three to five Uncirculated examples as well as a unique branch mint proof which is now in an East Coast specialist's complete set of Proof Threes.
6. 1855-S Half Eagle: Even if this collector had unlimited funds, he wouldn't be able to buy an 1854-S half eagle. So, for all intents and purposes, an 1855-S is the first-year-of-issue for the half eagles from this mint. As you might expect with a coin that had 61,000 struck, this isn't a real condition rarity and decent EF's are reasonably plentiful and very affordable. Lower end AU's remain a good value in the $2,000-3,000 range but properly graded AU55 to AU58 examples are rare and undervalued. I can only recall having seen one Uncirculated example (a PCGS MS62, ex Bass II: 1077). A piece of advice about 1855-S half eagles: be patient. There are a lot of crummy examples out there but a few nice ones do exist and with prices still so reasonable for this issue it pays to be selective.
7. 1864-S Half Eagle: This formerly obscure issue is becoming famous and well it should; it is the second rarest Liberty Head half eagle and a very rare issue in all grades with around two dozen or so known from the original mintage of just 3,888. Despite this coin's great rarity, it is not yet priced at the level that I believe it should be. I recently sold a PCGS VF30 for $21,500 which seems like a lot for a coin graded VF30 but, when you consider this date is far rarer than a number of coins that sell for six figures. I don't often say this but here is an issue that you should throw caution to the wind and be very aggressive if one becomes available. I think the 1864-S half eagle has great upside potential and as San Francisco gold grows more and more popular, this has the potential to be a six figure coin.
8. 1876-S Half Eagle: This has been a favorite "sleeper" date of mine for years. Only 4,000 were struck and it is an issue that exceeds the better known Civil War issues from the 1861-1863 era in terms of overall rarity. I regard it as the second rarest collectible half eagle from this mint (after the 1864-S) and I believe that there are fewer than fifty known in all grades. It is an easy issue to identify as all known examples have a dramatic ring-like punch in Liberty's earlobe. There is one known in Uncirculated: the Garrett I: 487 coin that sold for $34,000 back in November 1979 and which I think is one of the single most desirable (and least well known) Liberty Head half eagles of any date or mint. From time to time, EF's are available and they still can be had for less than $5,000 (cheap!!) while a decent AU will cost two to three times this amount.
9. 1854-S Eagle: The 1854-S is not even close to being the rarest early date SF eagle of this denomination but as the first-year-of-issue its certainly the most historic and a great Gold Rush artifact. The 1854-S has a high original mintage of 123,826 and there are certainly 500+ known in all grades (making it arguably the most available coin in this collection). But it has a coolness level that is off the proverbial charts and it is affordable. I sell nice AU's in the $2,500-3,500 range and I recently sold a great-looking PCGS AU58 for $5,750. Most examples are very abraded and few have original color; hold out for pieces that are relatively mark-free and nicely toned. I have only seen or heard of one Uncirculated 1854-S eagle, an NGC MS61 that was sold privately by a West Coast dealer around six years ago.
10. 1864-S Eagle: I've written extensively about this issue so I won't flog a dead horse. But I will say, for the dozenth time, this coin is rare, rare, rare. It is the second rarest Liberty Head eagle after the 1875 and it is certainly a coin that would sell for six figures if it were in almost any series other than the Liberty Head eagles. I just offered a lovely PCGS VF30 with CAC approval on my website and was surprised (but not really surprised) to get multiple orders for it within the first day it was listed. I would offer the same comments with this issue as I would with the 1864-S half eagle: if you get the chance to buy one that you can live with, act quickly and decisively.
11. 1854-S Double Eagle: The 1854-S is an odd coin. It seems like it shouldn't be that rare (over 140,000 were made) and the population figures aren't all that low. But the survival rate is astonishingly low with just a few hundred known. And what PCGS or NGC figures won't tell you is that nearly all the Mint State 1854-S double eagles are from the S.S. Yankee Blade shipwreck. This means that examples in any grade with original surfaces are rare and I have only seen two examples in Uncirculated (a PCGS MS60 and an NGC MS61) that didn't have seawater surfaces. After years of being inexpensive, the 1854-S got discovered a few years ago and it has probably tripled in price in the last three years. I still think its not a bad value and, in fact, just sold a PCGS AU50 for less than $9,000.
12. 1857-S S.S. Central America Double Eagle in MS64 to MS65: I wasn't going to put this issue in the proposed San Francisco collection but after some thinking, I just had to add it. How can you collect San Francisco gold from the 1850-1880 era and not own a nice SSCA 1857-S? They are big, beautiful, historic coins that beg to be included in any set. My parameters are pretty straightforward on this issue: buy a coin in the original gold foil SSCA PCGS holder, get the original bells and whistles that came with it and avoid a piece that has turned in the holder. That leaves probably over a thousand available coins in the $10,000-15,000 price range.
13. 1861-S Paquet Reverse Double Eagle: The thirteenth--and final--coin in the set is probably the most expensive but certainly among the most interesting. The story of the Paquet has been told many times before but I think the important things to remember about this issue is that it was virtually unknown until examples were found in Europe in the 1950's. It jumped dramatically in price a few years and mid-range AU's were topping out at over $125,000. Prices have receded since then but I note that demand for this issue is coming back. It is extremely hard to find examples with good eye appeal and many of the "real" EF's have been scrubbed into AU50, AU53 and even AU55 holders. My advice: if you see a good looking Paquet and the price isn't goofy, get aggressive. I'd budget at least $75,000 for a nice Paquet.
Do you need help devising a collection of United States gold coins? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and perhaps I can answer your questions with a blog just like this one.
In 1877, a third type of double eagle was created when the reverse valuation was changed from TWENTY D to TWENTY DOLLARS. Liberty Head double eagles were produced with just one interruption (1886) from 1877 through 1907. This is a very easy series to complete as all thirty issues are readily available in the lower Uncirculated grades and many of the post-1890 date can even be found in Gem. I would recommend this series for beginning collectors or advanced collectors who are more interested in grade than absolute rarity. What follows is a date-by-date analysis of each issue.
1877-S: This is the most common Type Three San Francisco double eagle from the 1870’s. It is common in grades up to an including MS62. It becomes scarce in MS63 and is very rare in MS64 and above. Most are seen with good luster and nice color but heavily abraded surfaces. The finest known is Stack’s 1/09: 1420, graded MS65 by NGC, which set a record price for the date at $29,900.
1878-S: The 1878-S is scarcer than the 1877-S but it is still a fairly easy date to find in grades up to an including MS62. In MS63 it is rare and it is extremely rare above this. The finest that I have personally seen is the high end PCGS MS63, ex Heritage 9/06: 4139, which sold for a strong $23,000. This date is characterized by soft, frosty luster and heavy abrasions on the surfaces.
1879-S: This is easily the scarcest San Francisco Type Three double eagle from the 1870’s and it is one of the harder SF issues of this type to locate. It is scarce even in the lowest Uncirculated grades and it is very scarce in properly graded MS62. In MS63, the 1879-S is very rare and there is but one example graded better than this, a PCGS MS64, ex Heritage 9/07: 3851, which sold for an amazing $63,250. Virtually every known example is marred by excessive bagmarks and many have impaired luster as a result.
1880-S: The 1880-S is only marginally scarce in MS60 to MS61 but it becomes a hard date to find in properly graded MS62. It is rare in MS63 and very rare above this but there are a few very high quality pieces known. The best is a superb NGC MS66, ex Heritage 2004 ANA: 7626, which brought a hefty $92,000 and the second best is an NGC MS65, ex Bowers and Merena 2/06: 603 that was bid up to $54,625. These are the two best early date Type Three San Francisco double eagles that I have personally seen.
1881-S: The 1881-S is much more available in the MS60 to MS62 range than the 1879-S and 1880-S. It is only moderately scarce in MS62 but it becomes rare in MS63 and I have never seen one that graded higher than this. The best I am aware of are a small group of nice PCGS MS63 coins, the last of which to sell was Heritage 4/09: 2763 (at $17,250). As with all of the early S Mint Type Three issues, this date is characterized by good luster and color but heavy surface marks.
1882-S: Beginning with this issue, the Type Threes from San Francisco become more available in the lower Uncirculated grades. The 1882-S is very common through MS62 and slightly scarce in MS63. But it is very rare in properly graded MS64 and I am not aware of any Gems. The best I know of is ex Heritage 7/06: 1714; a PCGS MS63 that brought $23,000.
1883-S: The 1883-S is very common through MS63 but it becomes very rare in MS64 and it may not exist in Gem. This date is seen with good luster and color but is almost always very heavily abraded. There is a small group of properly graded MS64’s known and the last of these to sell was Heritage 1/10: 2261, graded by NGC, which realized $16,100.
1884-S: The 1884-S is among the more common SF double eagles from the 1880’s. It is easy to find in MS60 through MS63 but it is very scarce in properly graded MS64. In MS65 it is extremely rare and the only one I can recall having seen was a PCGS coin sold as Lot 2036 in Heritage’s 2007 ANA that brought a very strong $46,000. This is yet another date that is characterized by heavily abraded surfaces.
1885-S: The 1885-S is very common in grades up through and including MS63. It is moderately scarce in MS64 but it is extremely rare in MS65 and I’ve never seen a Gem. There is no clear-cut finest known example as many of the MS64’s are similar in quality.
1887-S: This is a “sleeper” date that is considerably rarer in terms of total known that the other SF issues from this era. It is slightly scarce in the MS60 to MS62 range, rare in MS63 and very rare above this. There are actually a few Gems known including the Eliasberg coin (which does not appear to have surfaces since it was sold in 1982) and Superior 6/97: 1566, graded MS65 by NGC.
1888-S: The 1888-S is the most common SF Type Three issue from this decade. It is very common through MS63 and it is scarce in MS64. I have never seen a Gem although I wouldn’t be surprised if one exists. Many of the MS64’s are similar in quality and there is no clear-cut finest known.
1889-S: This date is very common up to MS63. It is rare in properly graded MS64 and doesn’t appear to exist in full-blown Gem. There have been three PCGS MS64 examples to sell at auction since 2006 and they have realized $13,800, $17,825 and $18,400 respectively. 1890-S: The 1890-S is very similar in overall and grade rarity to the 1889-S. It becomes rare in properly graded MS64 and there is just one Gem (an MS65) at PCGS. There have been eight coins graded MS64 sold at auction since the beginning of the 21st century and the highest price realized is $13,800 set by Goldberg 2/07: 2560.
1891-S: The 1891-S is more common than the 1889-S and 1890-S. It is readily available in MS63 and is seen much more often in MS64 than these two other dates. I have never seen a Gem.
1892-S: The 1892-S is another date that is common in grades up to and including MS63. It is only moderately scarce in properly graded MS64 but it is extremely rare in Gem. The finest known is ex Bowers and Merena 3/09: 3978, graded MS66 by NGC, which brought a strong $46,000.
1893-S: This date is very common in MS63. It is scarcer in MS64 than the 1890-S through 1892-S double eagles and it is extremely rare in Gem with just one graded as such (an MS65) by PCGS. The highest prices realized at auction is $18,400 set by Heritage 6/06: 3808, graded MS64 by PCGS.
1894-S: The 1894-S is among the most common San Francisco double eagles. It is easy to find in Uncirculated through MS64 but it is extremely rare in Gem. The finest I am aware of is an NGC MS65, ex Stack’s 1/09: 1439, which sold for $19,550.
1895-S: This date is very common in MS63 and only marginally scarce in MS64. There are probably as many as ten to twelve Gems known but none finer than MS65. The best I have seen is ex Heritage 2007 ANA: 2040 that sold for $12,650; it was graded MS65 by NGC.
1896-S: The 1896-S is more common than the 1895-S. It is easy to locate in MS63 and even MS64’s are not really scarce. Gems are extremely rare. The finest known is an amazing PCGS MS67 that is ex Eliasberg: 996; it sold for $13,200 back in 1982.
1897-S: The 1897-S is similar in overall and high grade rarity to the 1895-S. Gems are extremely rare. There is a pair of PCGS MS67’s known. One is ex Superior 2/05: 3410 (at $60,375), Eliasberg: 998.
1898-S: This is the most common 19th century S mint double eagle by a fairly significant margin. It is the only 19th century Type Three issue from this mint that is available in MS65 for a reasonable sum. The finest known is a PCGS MS67 that is ex Bowers and Merena 3/04: 3263, Eliasberg: 1000.
1899-S: The 1899-S is very common through MS64 grades. In Gem, it is extremely rare with just three to five known. The best, by a huge margin, is a superb PCGS MS67 that is ex Eliasberg: 1002. It brought $16,500 back in 1982.
The second part of this study on San Francisco double eagles deals with the Type Two issues struck from 1866 to 1876. There are no absolute rarities in this series as with the Type One issues but there are a number condition rarities as well as affordable dates that are easy to locate in Extremely Fine and About Uncirculated grades. Let's take a look at each date and focus on the higher grade coins as these tend to be the most interesting Type Two double eagles from this mint.
1866-S With Motto: After a small number of No Motto double eagles were struck in San Francisco in 1866, the change was made to the new With Motto design. The 1866-S With Motto is desirable as a first year of issue date but it is not really rare in terms of overall rarity. It tends to be found in lower grades (EF40 to AU50) and is nearly always seen with heavily abraded surfaces and poor eye appeal. It is scarce in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and rare in Uncirculated with an estimated two to three dozen known. It is extremely rare in MS62 above and none have been graded better than this by PCGS or NGC. The population figures in MS61 seem to be very inflated at both services and a few of the coins that I have seen in MS61 holders are marginal at best for the grade. The current auction record is $39,100 set by Bowers and Merena 7/06: 1667, graded MS62 by PCGS.
1867-S: The 1867-S is a bit more available than the 1866-S With Motto in terms of overall rarity. In Uncirculated it is actually more rare with an estimated 15 or so known. The finest is a single MS63 at NGC; another five or six are known in MS62. This date is typically seen with a flat strike, very "ticky" surfaces and poor luster. Examples with good eye appeal are quite hard to locate and are worth a good premium over typical coins. Properly graded AU55 to AU58 pieces are very scarce and any example that grades above MS61 is extremely rare. The current auction record is $22,425 set all the way back in 2002 by Superior during the ANA auction; this was for a coin graded MS62 that is still the best that I can recall having seen.
1868-S: The 1868-S is the most common Type Two double eagle from San Francisco struck during the 1860's. It is plentiful in grades below AU55 but it is scarce in properly graded AU58 and rare in Uncirculated. I think there are around three dozen known in Uncirculated with most in the MS60 to MS61. Above MS61, the 1868-S is extremely rare. The highest graded is a single MS64 at NGC; the services have combined to grade four in MS62 with just one of these at PCGS. This date comes better struck than the 1866-S and 1867-S and has better luster as well. Like all San Francisco double eagles of this type, it is plagued by excessive surface marks. The natural coloration is often a pleasing rose-gold; others are found with orange-gold or greenish-gold hues. The current auction record was set by Heritage 2006 ANA: 5644, an NGC MS62 that sold for $32,200.
1869-S: The 1869-S is just a touch less available than the 1868-S in circulated grades but it is more available in Uncirculated. There are as many as 50-75 known in Uncirculated with most in the MS60 to MS62 range. This date is extremely rare in MS63 and above although there are a few really nice MS64 pieces known. The population in MS64 is currently eight coins (five at PCGS and three at NGC) but this includes some resubmissions. Interestingly, the NGC population in MS64 declined from nine in November 2009 to its current three and this indicative of the fact that one coin has been resubmitted numerous times in an attempt to make the first MS65 of this date. The 1869-S tends to have better luster than the earlier Type Two SF issues but it is nearly always found with abraded surfaces. The current auction record is held by Heritage 2005 ANA: 10413, graded MS64 by PCGS, which brought $83,375.
1870-S: I regard the 1870-S as one of the real "sleeper" dates in the Type Two SF double eagle series. It is similar in rarity to the 1869-S in EF and mid-range AU grades but it becomes very scarce in properly graded AU58. It is quite rare in Uncirculated with around 40-50 known but nearly all are in the MS60 to MS61 range. In MS62, the 1870-S is extremely rare (I know of only two) and there is just one graded better than this, an MS63 at NGC. This date has decent luster and can be found with an acceptable strike but many of the higher grade pieces have been processed and nice, original coins with decent surfaces are rare. The current auction record is $33,350 which was acheived by Heritage 4/10: 2311. This coin, by the way, was the single best 1870-S double eagle that I have personally seen.
1871-S: In my experience the 1871-S is considerably more common than the 1869-S and 1870-S although the populations figures for the 1871-S are just a bit higher. It is readily available in EF and AU grades and it is much less rare in Uncirculated than the preceding Type Two issues from SF. There are around 75-100 known in Uncirculated and examples in MS60 to MS61 are reasonably priced and available from time to time. In MS62, the 1871-S is rare and it is extremely rare above this. PCGS and NGC have both graded a single example in MS64 while only four are recorded in MS63 (three at NGC and one at PCGS). This date is sometimes seen with semi-prooflike surfaces and it tends to be well struck by the standards of Type Two double eagles. Surface marks and lack of originality are always a problem with the 1871-S. The current auction record is Heritage 1998 ANA: 7856 which brought $32,200. It is graded MS64 by NGC.
1872-S: The 1872-S is generally lumped with the 1871-S but I think it is a harder coin to find in all grades and it is somewhat undervalued. It is a well-made issue with a good strike and nice luster but surface marks tend to be a problem and it is very hard to find choice. The 1872-S is seen from time to time in the lowest Mint State grades but it becomes very scarce in MS62 and it is extremely rare above this. PCGS has graded nothing higher than MS62 (and just four at this level) while NGC shows a single MS63 and MS64 as well as three in MS62. The current auction record is Stack's 9/09: 5570, graded MS62 by PCGS, that brought $12,075.
1873-S Open 3: There are two varieties of double eagle known for the 1873-S. The Open 3 is the rarer of the two. It is usually seen in the AU50 to AU55 range and it is scarce in the lower Uncirculated grades. It is very rare in MS62 and appears to be unknown above this. Most examples are a bit flatly struck and are almost always severely abraded. It is also very hard to find pieces with nice natural color. NGC and PCGS have combined to grade only seven in MS62 and the current auction record is $28,750 set by Heritage 9/09: 1818 (graded MS62 by PCGS) which is, by the way, the only certified MS62 1873-S Open 3 double eagle to have ever been sold at auction.
1873-S Closed 3: This is the more common of the two varieties. I regard it as around three times more common than the Open 3. It is easy to locate in all circulated grades and it is not especially scarce in MS60 to MS61. It becomes scarce in MS62 and it is extremely rare in MS63. The finest graded are a pair of MS63's at PCGS; NGC shows nothing better than a group of fifteen in MS62. The 1873-S Closed 3 is nearly always very heavily abraded. It tends to have better color and luster than its Open 3 counterpart but it is clearly an issue that was handled roughly with many coins transported loosely in bags. The current auction record is Stack's 6/97: 1583 which brought $15,400. I do not know the current location of this coin or what it grades by today's standards.
1874-S: The 1874-S is one of the more common Type Two double eagles from the SF mint but it is less available than the 1875-S and 1876-S. It is well struck and lustrous but most higher grade pieces show numerous marks on the surfaces that limit the grade. It is reasonably available in the lowest Mint State grades but it becomes very scarce in properly graded MS62 and it is quite rare in MS63. The combined PCGS/NGC population for this grade is just seven coins with none better and I do not recall having seen more than two or three in MS63 that I thought were choice. The current auction record is $18,975 for an NGC MS63 sold by Heritage in their 1998 ANA auction as Lot 7861. Remarkably, this is still the only certified MS63 to sell at auction.
1875-S: The 1875-S is the second most available San Francisco Type Two double eagle. It is very common in all circulated grades and plentiful in the MS60 to MS61 range. It is moderately scarce in MS62 and very scarce in properly graded MS63. In MS64 it is extremely rare with a current PCGS/NGC population of just six. There is just a single Gem known and it is a mind-boggling PCGS MS67 (it has been graded as such by NGC as well) that was originally ex Stack's 3/95: 715 where it brought $82,500 as a raw coin. It traded for more than five times this amount last year when it was sold by private treaty. It is the single finest known Type Two double eagle of any date or mint.
1876-S: This is easily the most common San Francisco Type Two double eagle and this makes it perfect for the type collector who is seeking a single high grade issue from this mint. It is very common in the lower Mint State grades and it can be found from time to time in properly graded MS63. It is very scarce in MS64 and extremely rare in Gem. PCGS has graded just one in MS65 while NGC has graded two. The current auction record is held by Heritage 1/10: 2257, graded MS65, that brought $207,000. This is an all-time record for any Type Two double eagle from this mint at auction; at least one coin has brought more via private treaty.
The Type Two double eagles from this mint are a short-lived set that contain no rarities. The set can be assembled in Uncirculated grades although a few of the issues are essentially unavailable above MS61 to MS62. These coins are currently somewhat out of favor and it seems like a good time for the savvy collector to consider working on a nice, evenly matched set of San Francisco Type Two double eagles.
It has been a long time since I've written anything about the San Francisco double eagles. As these coins have become increasingly popular over the course of time (they are actually the most popular gold coins from this mint by a considerable margin) I think this would be an excellent time to begin a series of articles. It is only natural to divide these coins into three groups and this would be as follows: *Type One, 1854-1866 *Type Two, 1866-1876 *Type Three, 1877-1907
This first article is going to deal with the very popular Type One issues that were produced, as stated above, from 1854 through 1866.
1854-S: After years of neglect, this historically significant date has finally come into its own. The survival pattern of the 1854-S is different than for any other SF double eagle. Examples are likely to be found either very well worn (in VF35 to EF45 grades) or in Uncirculated (MS61 to MS63). This is because of the fact that this issue saw considerable circulation in the booming local Gold Rush economy and that a hoard of 100 or so Uncirculated pieces with seawater surfaces exists. The 1854-S is extremely rare in high grades with natural surfaces. I have only seen two in Uncirculated not from the shipwreck and just a handful of non-seawater AU pieces. A new price record was set for the date by Heritage 10/08: 3013, graded MS65 by PCGS, which brought a remarkable $115,000. Despite this, published pricing information for the 1854-S is way too low and a solid AU55 or AU58 with natural surfaces is worth well over current levels.
1855-S: For many collectors, the 1855-S is the earliest date SF double eagle that is added to their collection. This issue remains reasonably available in the lower to medium About Uncirculated grades but it is scarce in Uncirculated and much undervalued in my opinion. I believe that there are as many as 150-200 known in Uncirculated with many of these either in the lower range of this grade or sourced from the S.S. Central America or S.S. Republic shipwrecks. As with the other double eagles from this date, the 1855-S is characterized by very heavily abraded surfaces and choice, original pieces are worth a premium. At less than $3,000 for a pleasing, high end AU example, I think that the 1855-S remains an outstanding value in the Type One market.
1856-S: The discovery of over 1,000 high grade examples in the S.S. Central America treasure has made the 1856-S a common issue and one that is very popular with new Type One collectors. Price levels have increased in recent years for nice Uncirculated 1856-S double eagles and for good reason as these are affordable coins with a great story and fantastic eye appeal. The 1856-S in its original S.S. Central America gold foil PCGS holder is harder to find than its counterpart the 1856-S and the premium for the former is starting to increase. I look for nice MS63 and MS64 examples that show minimal discoloration and remaining encrusation.
1857-S: The discovery of more than 5,000 high quality examples on the S.S. Central America is what really jump-started the market for Type One double eagles. There are hundreds of collectors who started out buying a single Uncirculated 1857-S and then became hooked by the Type One series. I've noted some confusion about proper valuation for these coins. As an example, there is a CDN Bid of $7,200 for MS64 examples. This bid represents the value of a coin in a gold foil holder with the original box. An NGC MS64, which is clearly a coin that was broken out of a PCGS holder and likely upgraded, is worth less than this; in some cases as much as 10%. As a collector, if you pay a strong retail price for an Uncirculated 1857-S double eagle, try to be patient and wait for a nice quality piece in the original PCGS holder.
1858-S: The 1856-S and the 1857-S get all the publicity but the 1858-S is a much scarcer coin and a really rare one in Uncirculated. I believe that only two to three dozen are known in Uncirculated and I have not seen one better than MS61. The fact that so few nice 1858-S double eagles have sold at auction means that there are no high sales records and, concurrently, collectors are not aware of the true value of this date in higher grades. I'd have to rank the 1858-S as one of my favorite issues of this type from SF and I certainly think that it is among the two or three best values. I recently sold a lovely PCGS AU58 for less than $5,000 (cheap!!) and have sold nice AU55 coins for less than $3,000.
1859-S: The 1859-S is less rare than the 1858-S both in terms of overall and high grade rarity. But it is another date that it is a favorite of mine and I still maintain that nice quality AU55 to AU58 coins at $4,000+ and below are just about the best value that you can find in the Type One market; especially with very common Philadelphia coins from the early 1850's worth around $2,500-3,000 in nice AU. The 1859-S is often found with bright, baggy surfaces. The finest known example is a PCGS MS63 (ex Bowers and Merena 3/04: 3198) that sold for $31,050. I'm not certain if this coin would realize a ton more today but it still seems undervalued in comparison to other finest known Type One issues.
1860-S: Not much has changed with this date since I wrote my book on Type One double eagles in 2002. There are still fewer than 2000 known in all grades and I actually have revised my estimate of Uncirculated pieces known down from 25-50 to 20-30. This date remains rare and undervalued in higher grades. Trends in AU55 and AU58 is higher than the 1858-S and 1859-S but it is still reasonable, given the rarity of this issue. PCGS has graded a single example in MS63 and MS64 (neither of which I have seen) and there are just a few known in properly graded MS62. If you collect Type One double eagles in high grades and you see a choice, attractive 1860-S my advice to disregard current pricing guides and get aggressive as a considerable amount of time may pass before you get a second chance.
1861-S: Until eleven Uncirculated examples were found on the S.S. Republic this date was almost unavailable in Uncirculated. It remains very rare with fewer than a dozen known with original surfaces in Mint State. I actually think the 1861-S is every bit as tough as the 1860-S in AU55 to AU58 although it tends to sell for a bit less. This issue is unheralded due to the fame of the Paquet Reverse but it is beginning to come into its own as far as specialists go. Heritage 5/08: 3579 (graded MS62 by PCGS) is the current record auction price at $25,300. The finest graded is a single PCGS MS63 that I have have never personally seen.
1861-S Paquet Reverse: As I've written before, for years the Paquet double eagle was extremely undervalued. It was an issue that I can remember literally pleading with clients to buy. Yes, it was a bit on the obscure side but it was very rare, historically significant and impossible to find in higher grades. Not to toot my own horn too loudly but if you listened to me about purchasing a Paquet, we're both happy right now. The market for this issue peaked around mid-2008 when there were three auction sales within a year for AU58 examples that brought in the $160's. Suddenly, this formerly undervalued issue seemed pricey. Very pricey in fact. It has subsequently diminished in value. But I don't think this is a long-term projection for the issue. I've never seen or heard of an Uncirculated example (and a nice one would bring a huge, huge price if offered today) and have just seen two that I regarded as true AU58's. I would suggest that if you are thinking of buying a Paquet you be extremely selective and hold out for a nice coin with good eye appeal.
1862-S: This issue has become more available in higher grades due to the presence of some reasonably choice pieces in the S.S. Republic There are around two to three dozen known in Uncirculated with most in the MS60 to MS61 range. This date remains very rare in properly graded MS62 and there are just two known in MS63 (one each at PCGS and NGC). From a price standpoint, I find the 1862-S a bit overvalued in the higher AU grades when compared to the 1858-S, 1859-S and 1861-S. Interestingly, this is d ate that you never seem to see with the "Euro" look that is seen on some of the earlier S Mint Type One issues. It seems as if few were shipped overseas and the ones that I have seen that have come back from abroad are usually very well worn.
1863-S: Since the discovery of the S.S. Republic the 1863-S is about twice as available in Uncirculated as it was when I wrote my Type One book. I'd venture to estimate that as many as 100 are known in Uncirculated although the majority are shipwreck coins. The Uncirculated pieces in PCGS holders tend to be from the S.S. Brother Jonathan while the NGC coins tend to be from the S.S. Republic. Of all the San Fransisco S mints from this era, the 1863-S tends to be among the worst struck with a lot of flatness seen on the hair. Conversely, the luster is good and there are some original pieces known that have great color and overall eye appeal. This is a date that I think is a bit tougher in original AU55 and AU58 than most people realize and it seems like pretty good value at current levels.
1864-S: This date's rarity has been notably changed by the S.S. Republic and Brother Jonathan shipwrecks. I can remember when the 1864-S was just about impossible to find in Uncirculated. In fact, in the late 1980's/early 1990's I owned a PCGS MS62 which I distinctly remember being far and away the finest 1864-S that I had seen or heard of. This tends to be a poorly produced issue with even less hair detail than seen on the 1862-S and 1863-S. Coins with original surfaces tend to be a bit on the grainy side and if they have natural color tend to be dark and not especially attractive. NGC graded one of the S.S. Republic coins MS65 and this is likely to remain the highest graded 1864-S double eagle for many years.
1865-S: Just as the 1857-S is now officially known as the "Central America" date in this series, the 1865-S is likely to always be remembered as the "Brother Jonathan" date. There were over 550 found on the BroJo. When you combine this number with the 235 found on the S.S. Republic , this adds up to a lot of high grade 1865-S double eagles. This date has been graded as high as MS66 (the best of which brought $72,450 at auction all the way back in May 1999) and enough have been graded in MS64 and MS65 to make it readily available. I'm not personally a big fan of shipwreck coins (as you probably know, I like coins that have original crusty surfaces...) but I think it would be a neat set to have one nice high grade coin from each of the three major Type One shipwrecks.
1866-S No Motto: Only 12,000 examples were struck of this issue and it is the second rarest Type One double eagle from San Francisco, trailing only the 1861-S Paquet. Despite this coin's rarity, it was hugely undervalued for many years. This changed dramatically in the early 2000's when Type Ones became avidly collected by date and interest in the rarest issues soared. The price for a nice EF 1866-S double eagle went from around $5,000 to around $25,000. The height of the market for this issue was 2007-2008 when a number of pieces brought over $100,000 at auction. In January 2007, Heritage sold a really nice PCGS AU58 for $195,000 and I'm told that at least one of the coins graded MS60 by NGC traded privately for over $250,000. Those are pretty heady numbers for a coin that most people barely even knew about a decade ago. But I think the future looks good for this issue. It is truly rare in properly graded AU55 and AU58 and excessively rare in Uncirculated with just two or three currently accounted for.
I think the future looks very bright for San Francisco Type One double eagles. These issues are popular and avidly collected. There are coins available for all price ranges and the fact that many dates have very attractive shipwreck coins available is a great way to introduce this series to new collectors.