I don’t write as often about San Francisco gold coinage as I do about the southern branch mints, but I buy and sell a lot of rare San Francisco issues in all denominations and I have a good overall handle on the health of this market…Read More
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
While writing my October 2017 article on Liberty Head eagles I spent time discussing the With Motto San Francisco issues, struck from 1866 to 1907. Three dates stood out as being overlooked and underappreciated...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
I have written extensively about the Condition Census as it applies to United States gold coins: what it is, its origin and significance and specific examples of issues and a listing of the Condition Census. I recently had an interesting conversation with an advanced collector about his holdings, and he mentioned to me that there were specific instances where he owned virtually the entire Condition Census for the denomination in which he specialized. This was not some idle boast; what he said was true and it inspired me to think about writing a series of articles which focus on Condition Census listings.
The first denomination that I’m going to focus on is Liberty Head eagles. This is a series which has gone from overlooked to in demand in a reasonably short period of time. As recently as four or five years ago, I can remember offering unquestionable Condition Census examples of more obscure (i.e., Philadelphia and San Francisco) issues for very reasonable sums and having them sit on my website for weeks before they sold. Today, when I get such coins in—which is not very often—they sell almost immediately and typically with multiple orders.
Before I begin, there is a major caveat to discuss which concern not only the Condition Census but any study that deals with rankings of coins in regards to their appearance. Just because the plastic that encases a coin says that it grades, for example, MS62, this doesn’t mean it’s “better” than another example of the same date that grades MS61, MS60 or even AU58. When I say that in order to qualify as a Condition Census example a coin must grade in the AU55 to AU58 range, this is making an assumption that the coin in question is choice, original and eye appealing.
1. No Motto, 1838 to 1866
1838: There are at least four to six known in Uncirculated so, in theory, an 1838 eagle would have to grade at least MS60 to MS61 to qualify as a Condition Census example. However, I might include a really choice AU58 as well.
1839 Head of 1838: This variety is more common in Uncirculated than sometimes realized with probably over 10 known. To qualify as a Condition Census example a coin would have to grade MS61 to MS62.
1839 Head of 1840: This variety is extremely rare in higher grade and I am aware of just two in Uncirculated. A nice AU55 would easily qualify as Condition Census.
1840: The 1840 eagle is common in lower AU grades but rare in AU58 and extremely rare in full Mint State with just four or five known. An MS60 is easily in the Condition Census
1841: There are five or six Uncirculated examples of this date. I would regard any 1841 eagle which grades MS60 or better as Condition Census.
1841-O: This very rare date is unknown in Uncirculated and exceedingly rare above AU55. A choice, original AU53 to AU55 is easily in the Condition Census for the issue.
1842 Small Date: This is the rarer of the two varieties for the year. Three or four exist in Uncirculated meaning that a properly graded AU58 is in the Condition Census.
1842 Large Date: With just five or six known in Uncirculated this variety is rare in high grades as well. I would give the cut-off for Condition Census inclusion as MS60 to MS61.
1842-O: The 1842-O is a very rare coin in high grades with an estimated four or five in Uncirculated. A choice, original AU58 is in the Condition Census.
1843: The 1843 is a lightly regarded issue but it is exceedingly rare in Uncirculated with just two or three known. Again, a properly graded AU58 is in the Condition Census.
1843-O: There are five to six known in Uncirculated. An 1843-O eagle which grades MS60 to MS61 qualifies as Condition Census.
1844: The 1844 is the rarest eagle from this mint struck prior to the Civil War. There are only one or two in Uncirculated and the bottom end of the Condition Census goes all the way down to AU53 to AU55.
1844-O: An MS60 example of this date is in the Condition Census as there are maybe five to six in Uncirculated. A choice, original AU58 might qualify as well.
1845: There are just two or three known in Uncirculated which means a nice AU58 easily qualifies as Condition Census.
1845-O: Virtually all No Motto eagles from this mint are very rare to extremely rare in Uncirculated. Only three or four of this date exist in Mint State which means a nice AU58 is in the Condition Census.
1846: Another extremely rare issue in Mint State with just one or two known to me. I would place a choice AU55 in the Condition Census.
1846-O: Two or three are known in Uncirculated. A choice AU58 easily qualifies as Condition Census.
1847: This is one of the few No Motto eagles from the 1840’s which is not extremely rare in Uncirculated and more than 20 1847’s are known in MS60 or better. To qualify in the Condition Census, an example must be MS62 and choice for the grade.
1847-O: The 1847-O is the most common No Motto New Orleans eagle in Uncirculated with more than 10 known. I would place the cut-off for Condition Census at MS62.
1848: This date is much scarcer in Uncirculated than the 1847 or 1849 but a few very nice MS63 to MS64 examples are known, making MS62 the level for the Condition Census.
1848-O: There are actually as many as seven or eight known in Uncirculated including some in the MS64 to MS66 range. This makes the level for Condition Census a high MS63.
1849: More than 20 exist in Uncirculated including some as high as MS64. A nice, original MS63 would easily qualify in the Condition Census.
1849-O: I doubt if more than two or three are known in Uncirculated and none of these are much better than MS60 to MS61. A nice AU55 is in the Condition Census.
1850 Small Date: This is the scarcer of the two varieties and there are just five or six known in Uncirculated. I’d put any example in MS60 or better in the Condition Census listing.
1850 Large Date: While more available overall, this variety iss still quite rare in Mint State with maybe six to eight known. The Condition Census would include any example grading MS61 or finer.
1850-O: This overlooked condition rarity has just one or two known in Uncirculated. A properly graded AU58 is in the Condition Census.
1851: This date is harder to find in Mint State than other “common dates” of this era. There are probably fewer than a dozen known and an MS61 would qualify as Condition Census.
1851-O: Around ten or so are known in Uncirculated, mostly in the MS60 to MS61 range. To be in the Condition Census, an 1851-O eagle would have to grade MS61 and be choice.
1852: An estimated 12-15 exist in Mint State. I believe an MS62 is comfortably within the Condition Census.
1852-O: This date is hugely rare in Uncirculated with just one or two extant. A properly graded AU55 qualifies as Condition Census.
1853: Slightly more available than the 1852 in Uncirculated with around 15 or so known. An MS62 is in the Condition Census.
1853-O: A very rare issue in Uncirculated with just three to five known. A choice, original AU58 is in the Condition Census.
1854: Very rare in Uncirculated with fewer than ten known. MS61 examples are in the Condition Census.
1854-O Small Date: This is the rarer of the two varieties and only two or three known in Uncirculated. I think a choice, original AU58 would qualify in the Condition Census.
1854-O Large Date: This variety is more available in higher grades but it is still very rare in Uncirculated with just four or five known. Again, a properly graded AU58 is Condition Census.
1854-S: The first eagle from this mint and very rare in Uncirculated with four or five known. An AU58 is Condition Census.
1855: More than 15 are known in Uncirculated. MS62 seems to me to be the qualifying grade for Condition Census consideration.
1855-O: Just two or three exist in Uncirculated and not many more in AU58. A properly graded AU55 would qualify.
1855-S: This overlooked rarity n unknown in Uncirculated and exceedingly rare in AU58. The Condition Census includes any properly graded AU55.
1856: There are 15-20 in Uncirculated with most in the MS61 to MS63 range. An MS62 is in the Condition Census.
1856-O: There are only one or two in Uncirculated and not many in AU58. I’d include a properly graded AU55 in the Condition Census.
1856-S: There are around a half dozen known in Uncirculated including a few as high as MS63 to MS64. Still, any properly graded MS60 or better is Condition Census.
1857: I am aware of just two in Mint State and would place a properly graded AU58 in the Condition Census.
1857-O: This date is unknown in Uncirculated and exceptionally rare in AU58. I would place a properly graded AU55 in the Condition Census.
1857-S: Thanks to the SS Central America a few nice Mint State pieces exist but I would still put any properly graded MS60 or finer example in the Condition Census.
1858: This date is probably unique in Uncirculated and the Condition Census extends down as far as AU55.
1858-O: There are fewer than ten known in Uncirculated but this is a more available date in Uncirculated than commonly recognized. I’d place the Condition Census cut-off at around MS61.
1858-S: Beginning with this issue, the S mint eagles become impossible to find in U;ncirculated. Condition Census is AU55 and maybe even as low as AU53 if eye appeal is given weight.
1859: A very rare and overlooked coin in higher grades with just three or so known in Uncirculated. Condition Census is AU58 and above.
1859-O: There is nothing close to Uncirculated known and even a nice AU53 is well within the Condition Census.
1859-S: Unknown in Uncirculated and I’ve never seen one better than AU55. Condition Census is AU50 to AU53.
1860: Fewer than ten exist in Uncirculated and just two or three grade above MS62. Condition Census is likely in the MS61 range.
1860-O: As many as five or six are known in Uncirculated which means that any piece grading MS60 or above is in the Condition Census for this issue.
1860-S: This is one of the real condition rarities in the series and I’d place even a properly graded AU50 to AU53 in the Condition Census.
1861: This is the last date of this design type which is available in higher grades. Two to three dozen are known in Uncirculated including some nice MS63’s and MS64’s. I’d still place a properly graded MS62 in the Condition Census.
1861-S: Unique in Uncirculated and extremely rare in the higher AU grades. Condition Census is AU55.
1862: Unknown in Uncirculated and extremely rare in the higher AU grades although a touch more available than the other P mints of this era. I’d place a choice, high end AU55 in the Condition Census.
1862-S: Unique in Uncirculated and exceedingly rare in AU55 and above. Condition
1863: Another very rare date although one does exist in Uncirculated. I think Condition Census is as low as AU50 to AU53.
1863-S: Relatively common with a whopping two to three known in Uncirculated (that’s a little coin humor, reader…). Condition Census is AU55 but a nice AU53 might qualify as well.
1864: Another date with two or three known in Uncirculated but still very rare in grades as low as AU55 to AU58. Condition Census examples grade in this range.
1864-S: The rarest No Motto eagle; unknown in Uncirculated and exceedingly rare in Uncirculated. An AU50 is in the Condition Census and I’d suggest even a properly graded EF45 could be as well.
1865: Unique in Uncirculated and exceedingly rare in AU55 and above. An AU53 qualifies in the Condition Census.
1865-S Normal Date: The rarer of the two varieties and one of the keys to the series in AU. Condition Census is in the AU50 to AU53 range.
1865-S Inverted Date: Quite rare but more available than the Normal Date. This variety is unique in Mint State. Condition Census begins around the AU53 mark.
1866-S No Motto: Yet another issue which is unknown in Uncirculated and extremely rare in properly graded AU55 and above. Condition Census would certainly include a properly graded AU53.
So there you have it…a lot of rare coins with very few known in Uncirculated and a proposed Condition Census for each.
In the next article in this series, I will look at the slightly less interesting but still very collectible With Motto type.
Do you buy rare gold coins?
Do you have coins to sell?
Would you like to have the world's leading expert with you assembling a set of coins?
Contact Doug Winter at (214) 675-9897 or by email at email@example.com.
After many years of neglect, the Liberty Head gold coinage from the San Francisco mint is becoming popular with collectors. This makes sense as it is, for the most part, affordable and there is no denying the historic connotation(s) of the early issues. In my experience, one of the most collectable groups of gold coins from this mint is the eagle coinage from 1854 through 1878. The first quarter-century of eagle coinage from the San Francisco mint is full of rarities and it makes an especially challenging set for the collector of means. In this two-part article, I'll take a look at each date in the series (from 1854 through 1878) and at some important varieties as well.
In Part One, which is included here, we'll cover the No Motto dates produced from 1854 through 1866. In the second part, which will be published next month, we'll cover the With Motto issues from 1866 through 1878.
1854-S: A popular issue due to its status as the first eagle from this mint but one of the easier gold coins dated 1854-S to locate due to its large initial mintage of 123,826. The 1854-S is mostly found in EF40 to AU53 grades. It is scarce in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and extremely rare in Uncirculated. The only Uncirculated 1854-S eagle that I have seen was an NGC MS62 that was owned by Kagin's around six or seven years ago; it was later sold to a West Coast specialist. This date is most often found with abundant abrasions and impaired luster and any choice, original piece is scarce.
1855-S: The mintage for eagles dropped to just 9,000 during this year and the 1855-S eagle is a rare, under-appreciated coin. I believe that there are around fifty to sixty or so known in all grades with most in the VF30 to EF45 range. In About Uncirculated, the 1855-S eagle is quite rare and of the ten to twelve known, almost all are abraded AU50 to AU53 pieces. I have never seen an 1855-S eagle that graded higher than AU55 and just two or three at that level. PCGS has graded a single coin in AU58 and there are currently none known in Uncirculated. Despite the rarity of this date, it generally trades in the $5,000-7,500 and it seems like exceptional value to me.
1856-S: The mintage for San Francisco eagles rose to 68,000 in 1856 and the 1856-S is one of the more readily available early dates from this mint. There are hundreds known in the EF40 to AU50 range and this date is available--at reasonable levels--even in AU55 to AU58. For many years, the 1856-S eagle was unknown in Uncirculated but a few high grade examples were found in the S.S. Central America treasure. The finest is a PCGS MS63 that is ex Christie's 12/00: 73, where it sold for $19,550. At least one or two others exist in PCGS MS62 including ANR 5/05: 378, which also brought $19,550. Varieties are known with a Medium S (as on 1854 and 1855) and a Large S which is significantly scarcer. As with the 1854-S, this is a date that is very hard to find with original color and minimally marked fields.
1857-S: The rarity of this date is somewhat skewed by the availability of the double eagles dated 1857-S but it is actually a relatively scarce coin. A few hundred are known and these tend to be in the EF45 to AU53 range. Properly graded AU55 to AU58 examples are very scarce, especially with natural color and choice surfaces. There were a few high quality pieces found in the S.S. Central America treasure and the best of these, graded MS64 by PCGS, is ex Heritage 2/09: 2906 ($53,188), Christie's 12/00: 74 ($40,250). There is at least one other 1857-S eagle that has been graded MS63 by both PCGS and NGC. All examples have a Medium S mintmark and there appears to be at least two different date positions.
1858-S: Beginning with this issue, the eagles from the San Francisco mint become rarer than the previous dates (with the exception of the 1855-S) and part of this is attributable to low mintages. Of the 11,800 eagles made at this mint in 1858, it is likely that only fifty or so are known today and most are seen in very low grades. Interestingly, this date is slightly more available in AU grades than one might expect with as many as fifteen known. I have never seen an Uncirculated 1858-S and only one or two AU58's that I thought were accurately graded. No example stands out in my memory as being the clear finest known as nearly all have been dipped and are very heavily abraded. This is a date that the fussy collector is going to have a hard time appreciating and it might be smart to consider a decent EF45 to AU50 instead of the banged-up AU55 to AU58 coins that are seen from time to time.
1859-S: The mintage of this issue is a low 7,000; the smallest amount for any San Francisco eagle produced through this year. There are fewer than fifty known and the 1859-S is a rare issue in all grades. The average example is in the VF30 to EF40 range and an accurately graded EF45 is extremely scarce. In AU grades, the 1859-S eagle is very rare with fewer than ten known. PCGS has graded just one in AU55 with none better while NGC has graded an AU58 and an MS60 (neither of which I have seen in person). All 1859-S eagles have a Large S mintmark which seen on the reverse of the 1859-1862 San Francisco eagles as well.
1860-S: Only 5,000 examples of the 1860-S were made and this is clearly among the rarest gold coins of any denomination from this mint. This is an issue that is generally seen well worn, with subdued luster and with abraded surfaces. There are as many as six or seven properly graded AU examples known as well as two in Uncirculated. The finest is an NGC MS62 that appears to be ex Stacks 9/06: 1491 ($36,800) and the second best is ex Superior 5/08: 132, S.S. Republic ($36,800). All 1860-S eagles have the same Large S mintmark that is seen on all SF eagles made between 1859 and 1862. While not an inexpensive issue, the 1860-S seems undervalued to me and it still does not get the respect that its Civil War counterparts have generated in recent years.
1861-S: Surprisingly, the mintage figure for 1861-S eagles is higher than in previous years and there were a respectable 15,500 produced. This date is scarce but not nearly as rare as the 1859-S or 1860-S. There are an estimated 80-90 known with enough in the VF-EF range to supply most of the collectors in this series. The 1861-S eagle becomes rare in AU and is very rare in properly graded AU55 and above. It is unique in Uncirculated with the only piece currently accounted for being an NGC MS61 that is ex Heritage 1/12: 4977 ($54,625). There are some reasonably attractive 1861-S eagles known with a decent amount of original color and nominally abraded surfaces. All 1861-S eagles have a Large S mintmark.
1862-S: The 1862-S eagle is considerable scarcer than the 1861-S, despite their relatively similar mintages; a total of 12,500 of the 1862-S were made. It appears that many were melted and those that did survive tend to show extensive circulation with the typical survivor grading VF25 to EF40. The 1862-S is rare in EF45 and very rare in About Uncirculated with probably no more than a half dozen or so accurately graded pieces known. The finest, by a huge margin, is the unique NGC MS61 that brought a remarkable $103,500 in the Heritage 4/11 sale. The next best that I have seen after this coin is an AU55 from the Bass collection. The 1862-S typically shows light golden-orange color, flat radial lines within the atars and plenty of abrasions on the surfaces. This is the last year in which the Large S mintmark would be used until it was resurrected in 1865.
1863-S: An even 10,000 eagles were made at the San Francisco mint in 1863. The 1863-S is a bit rarer overall than the 1862-S with around 45-55 known in all grades but it is actually slightly more available in higher grades. There seem to be as many as a dozen extant in AU grades and there are three in Mint State. The finest is Heritage 10/95: 6330 ($27,500), ex Norweb II: 2188 ($7,700) and this is graded MS61 by PCGS. The second finest, also graded MS61 by PCGS, is ex Bass IV: 684 ($18,400). The third finest is an NGC MS61 that was last sold as Goldberg 2/09: 1535 ($37,950). The reverse uses a Medium S mintmark. Despite the overall rarity of this issue, there are some reasonably attractive examples known and with some patience, the collector should be able to find an 1863-S eagle in the EF45 to AU53 range that is acceptable.
1864-S: I have written extensively about this issue and have stated before that it is not only the rarest eagle from this mint but the second rarest Liberty Head eagle, trailing only the 1875. The mintage was just 2,500 (the lowest for any San Francisco eagle) and the survival rate is low as well. Around 20-25 are known in all grades with many either very well worn (I have seen examples in grades as low as VF20) or damaged. The 1864-S is unknown in Uncirculated and exceedingly rare in AU with just two or three known. The finest is a PCGS AU55 that is ex Bass III: 656. This will be the single most difficult coin in the set for the specialist who is working on a SF eagle set. The few coins that are available (I have handled just two in the last decade) tend to be cleaned, well-worn and unappealing. As I have said before, if you have a chance to acquire one, throw caution to the wind!
1865-S Normal Date: There are two varieties of 1865-S eagle known. The first, which has a Normal Date, is the rarer with an estimated three dozen or so known. The total mintage of this date is 16,700 and it is possible that around 5,000 to 7,000 were struck with the Normal Date obverse. This variety is usually seen with bright surfaces, multiple bagmarks and a sunken appearance which is especially prominent at the reverse center. I have never seen or heard of an Uncirculated 1865-S Normal Date eagle and am aware of just two or three with claims to the AU55 to AU58 range. While not an inexpensive coin, I think it is still undervalued given the fact that it is among the ten rarest issues in the entire Liberty Head eagle series. An advanced San Francisco eagle collection with a nice mid-to-high level AU will have a coin that is not likely to ever be improved.
1865-S Inverted Date: There are few United States gold coins with a higher "cool factor" than this variety. The 186 in the date was originally punched upside down and was then corrected. This can be seen with the naked eye and it is a variety that is not seen on more than a handful of other United States issues. While more available than its Normal Date counterpart in terms of overall rarity, the Inverted Date is rarer in high grades. It is extremely rare in AU with no more than three or four known and it is exceedingly rare in Uncirculated with exactly two known. The finest is a PCGS MS64 that is originally from the Brother Jonathan hoard. It sold for $115,000 in 1999 and when it was resold by Bowers and Merena in their 8/01 auction it brought only $81,650; the second finest is an NGC MS62 from the S.S. Republic that is now owned by a western specialist. This is an issue that is generally seen with a very flat strike at the centers and heavy wear which impairs the luster. Most are in the VF-EF range and have been dipped as well as showing excessive abrasions. A nice EF-AU example of this fascinating variety would make a great addition to a San Francisco eagle set.
1866-S No Motto: This variety was struck early in 1866, before the changeover to the With Motto variety; the 1866 Philadelphia eagles are only known with the new With Motto reverse. A total of 8,500 No Motto 1866-S eagles were coined and this is rare coin in all grades. There are around four dozen known with most in low grades (VF to EF). The 1866-S No Motto eagle is extremely rare in properly graded AU with maybe a half dozen properly graded pieces known. The finest that I have personally seen is Bass IV: 689, graded AU58 by PCGS, that sold for $21,850 a decade ago. This is an overlooked issue that is comparable to the 1860-S and 1865-S eagles in terms of overall rarity and as rare, if not rarer, in high grades.
In 1866, the San Francisco mint changed over to the With Motto design and this continued until the Liberty Head design was abolished in 1907. In next month installment of this two-part article, we'll look at the 1866-S to 1878-S dates.
Would you like to collect these interesting San Francisco eagles? If so, Doug Winter can guide you. Email him today at firstname.lastname@example.org and let him explain even more about these fascinating coins!
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 email@example.com and perhaps I can answer your questions with a blog just like this one.
I'd like to thank collector John Toffaletti for writing this interesting study of 1856-S eagles and contributing it to raregoldcoins.com for publication. I think you'll find it very interesting and it contains information that has never been published before. There appears to be new interest in the older gold coins from the San Francisco mint. This is especially true for the double eagles, but also for the other denominations.
In searching the eagles from this period, I have noticed that the 1856-S comes in two very different mintmarks: a large S located farther to the right between the arrow feathers and the stem of the right branch and a medium S, located to the left of these same arrow feathers and the eagle’s right claw (left claw as you view the coin).
I started searching the Heritage Auction Archives for this date and mint mark and noticed that the large S was sometimes described as “very rare” because that’s how it was described in Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of US and Colonial Coins. To me, “very rare” means a coin that is really difficult to find, so I was puzzled when the two most recent 1856-S Eagles in the Archives for April 2011 were both large S types.
Continuing to look farther down, the Archives appeared to confirm that the large S was less common among the images that I viewed: of the first 20, 14 were medium S and 6 were large S. Still, not what I would call “very rare”. However, I was really interested by now, so I continued down the list until I got to 1999, at which point Heritage did not include images in their Archives.
All told, there were 80 1856-S Eagles sold from April 1999 to April 2011, with 55 being the medium S and 25 being the large S variety. So the large S would certainly appear to be rarer by about a 2 to 1 ratio.
Now for the “double S,” as in Steam Ship. I noticed one P55 1856-S eagle had an exceptionally high price for the grade. This was a shipwreck coin from the SS Central America. In a recent article, Doug Winter mentioned that certain shipwreck coins were selling at markedly increased prices relative to their landlubber cousins. Winter noted that the greatest differential was for such coins with low “shipwreck populations”.
As an example, the very common 1857-S shipwreck double eagle sells for a small premium in the middle Uncirculated grades, while most others would sell for a significant premium. Since the large majority of coins found at shipwreck are double eagles, eagles would certainly have low shipwreck populations. Here is a list of the 1856-S shipwrecked coins on the Heritage Archive:
April 2010 N25 SS Republic $1955.00 March 2010 P55 SS Central America $7475.00 May 2008 N50 SS Republic $2990.00 June 2008 N45 SS Republic $1610.00 January 2002 P58 SS Central America $3450.00 (typical 58s sold for around $2600 at the time)
While I much prefer an original, attractively toned coin that survived actual circulation with minimal wear and damage, it is clear that these shipwrecked coins sell for a premium.
Now back to the mintmark search. Breen states that the medium S variety has at least 2 positional varieties. As I looked at the medium S eagles, I noticed that one of the medium S mintmarks really stood out. It seemed to be much lower and to the right than the other medium S’s that I had seen (but still an obvious medium S).
I saved this image and another of the more common medium S coin with the mintmark located in the upper left area. Now able to clearly compare these two images, I confirmed that the two medium S’s were located in distinctly different locations.
The more common medium S is more toward the left and tucked up between the arrow feathers and the left claw, with a line along the right tips of the S pointing almost directly through the left bar of the “N” in “TEN” [for an example, see the coin sold in the Heritage January 2011 auction, graded P58].
On the other type, the right tips of the S point almost to the middle of the same “N” and the top of the S is no higher than the lower tip of the arrow feathers [for an example see the coin sold in Heritage’s April 2008 sale, graded P40].
Also, I felt that another of the medium S marks seemed a little different than the others. Indeed, this third type of medium S variety is somewhat between the other two: the right tips of the S point down to the right of the left bar of the “N” in “TEN” and the top of the S is just above the lower tip of the arrow feathers [for an example, see the Heritage March 2010 coin graded P58 CAC. This same coin was later upgraded to an N61 and sold in the September 2010 auction by this firm].
Breen speculated that the large S eagles may have been the last of three deliveries by the San Francisco mint: Jan 1856: 14,000; Sept: 55,000; Dec 2,500. However, the relative rarity figures of the Heritage Archives do not support this.
Since the 1854-S eagle has a large S, while the 1857-S eagle has a medium S in the lower right position, this suggests that the first shipment of 14,000 were the large S variety. Most of the 55,000 shipment (from September) were the upper left medium S, while the final shipment was the lower right medium S. These numbers are congruent with the Heritage Archive numbers.
The rarest variety appears to be the medium S in the lower right position, followed by the large S, then the upper left medium S. The center medium S is relatively scarce also, perhaps about the same as the large S type.
In closing, I have to tip my hat to Walter Breen, who amassed much useful information about a huge number of coins without the grading service population reports or the great convenience of the Heritage Archives.