So...You've Decided to Collect Type Two $20 Liberty Head Double Eagles...

So...You've Decided to Collect Type Two $20 Liberty Head Double Eagles...

Type Two double eagles are not as popular as their Type One and Type Three counterparts. The reasons for this are not exactly clear, as Type Two issues are very collectable as this article will show.

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San Francisco Double Eagles: A Date by Date Analysis Part Two

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.

The Best Values in Todays Rare Coin Market

There are many issues that face collectors in the coin market of 2010. A lack of quality coins is driving many collectors to seek new areas of specialization. Both PCGS and NGC have recently added “plus” grades which will no doubt change certain areas of the market as well. More than ever, collectors are gravitating towards areas that offer value. The days of new collectors and uninformed wealthy investors arbitrarily throwing money at plastic rarities are over and we appear to be back to a collector-oriented market. So what are some of the areas in this new market that offer the best value to collectors? I have chosen three price ranges ($1,000-5,000; $5,000-10,000 and $10,000 and up) and included some of the series and/or types that I feel are especially good values. Some are currently popular; some are not. What I have tried to focus on are coins that are actually available in some quantity and issues that I gladly buy to put into my own inventory when they are available.

1. $1,000-5,000

a) Gold Dollars, 1865-1872: The eight year run of gold dollars produced at the Philadelphia mint from 1865 through 1872 doesn’t include any real rarities but nearly all of these coins are scarce and undervalued in MS63 to MS64 grades. Most are priced in the area of $1,500-2,000 in MS63 and $2,000 to $3,000 in MS64 (the 1865 is rarer and more expensive in both grades) and they seem like good value to me. Take the 1872 as an example. Just 3,500 business strikes were made and only a few hundred exist in all grades. In MS64 this coin is worth around $3,000 yet it might take me months to find a decent example in this grade. Yes, gold dollars are small but this is a very collectible series and one with a number of really undervalued issues.

b) Classic Head Quarter Eagles: I’m a big fan of this series in properly graded AU55 to MS62 grades. Note that I stress properly graded as many of the coins that I see are either low end or unappealing due to having been processed. The Philadelphia issues, with the exception of the rare and much undervalued 1839, are affordable in this grade range with pieces valued at $1,750 or so at the lower end and around $5,000 at the higher end. The mintmarked coins are, of course, far more expensive and are not necessarily “good values” although I am an avid buyer of any mintmarked Classic Head quarter eagle in EF40 and better that is choice and original. For collectors at the lower end of this budget range, a nice set of About Uncirculated Classic Head Philadelphia quarter eagles is a fun and challenging endeavor.

c) Three Dollar Gold Pieces: After a few years of collector and investor popularity, this series has recently gone quiet. I don’t necessarily believe that all three dollar gold pieces are good value. In fact, I feel that some formerly undervalued issues are now marginal value at best (primarily due to the fact that many are grossly overgraded and have absolutely no eye appeal). What I do like about this series is that prices are actually down versus where they were five to seven years ago; which is pretty remarkable when one considers that gold has essentially doubled in price since then. Given the lack of collector interest, a new collector can buy PQ quality three dollar gold pieces for a very small premium right now. There are many coins on the market and with some patience, a really nice partial set of Threes could be assembled. The dates I still regard as undervalued include the 1858, 1862, 1864, 1870-72 and the ultra-low mintage issues from the 1880’s.

d) No Motto Half Eagles and Eagles: In the $1,000-5,000 range there are few areas in the United States gold coin market that offer better value than No Motto half eagles from the Philadelphia mint in the higher About Uncirculated grades. As an example, I frequently sell very nice common date AU58 half eagles from the 1840’s for under $750. That might not seem like a big thing until you consider that an ultra common With Motto half eagle in AU58 is worth $350 or so. In the case of the eagles from this era, many of the common date issues from the 1840’s are still available in nice AU58 for less than $1,500. I love the idea of a large size, visually attractive U.S. gold coin that was made well before the Civil War being highly affordable.

e) Crusty Original Charlotte and Dahlonega Quarter Eagles and Half Eagles in Extremely Fine: It will be very interesting to see what percentage of Charlotte and Dahlonega quarter eagles and half eagles receive a “plus” designation from PCGS and NGC in the coming years. If they are strict with their standards I believe that the number could be as low as 10-15% of the total submissions. As someone who is a strong buyer of nice, affordable branch mint gold I can tell you that choice, original pieces with natural color and surfaces have become exceptionally hard to locate. You can still buy nice Extremely Fine Charlotte and Dahlonega quarter eagles and half eagles in EF40 and EF45 for less than $3,000. I think these are wonderful values given their history and rarity.

2. $5,000-10,000

a) Early Half Eagles in Choice, Original About Uncirculated: Given the fact that early half eagles have doubled in price in the last five to seven years, I’m not certain that calling them “undervalued” is the right term. But even at current levels, I like the values that Bust Right (1795-1807) and Bust Left (1807-1812) half eagles offer in the higher AU grades. These are exceptionally historic issues and they are instantly appealing to virtually any new collector or investor who has the resources to afford them. These individuals might not want to assemble a date set of Bust Left half eagles but at $9,000-11,000+ for a high quality About Uncirculated example it is likely that these will become a centerpiece of any new collection. As with the Extremely Fine C+D coins I mentioned above, it will be interesting to see what percentage of early half eagles are given a plus designation by PCGS and NGC.

b) Affordable Uncirculated Dahlonega Half Eagles: If I had to choose the quintessential Dahlonega gold coin for the new collector, I’d select something like an 1847-D or 1853-D half eagle in properly graded MS61 to MS62. These coins are big, rare, attractive and reasonably priced at less than $10,000. What’s even more interesting about coins like this is that they are priced at essentially the same level as they were in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. Yes, gradeflation has pushed many AU58 coins into MS61 and MS62 holders. But the popularity of Dahlonega half eagles is as high in 2010 as at any point I can remember. If you can locate a few CAC or “plus quality” Dahlonega half eagles in MS61 to MS62 at today’s levels, I’d suggest that you jump on them.

c) No Motto Half Eagles and Eagles in MS62: MS62 is the “sweet spot” for most No Motto gold. The coins in MS60 to MS61 holder are often questionable as to their “newness” but most MS62 gold from this era tends to have a pretty nice overall appearance. What’s most interesting about this grade is its price point. Take, for example, a common No Motto half eagle like the 1847. In MS62 it can be purchased for around $3,000. In MS63, the same issue is going to run at least $6,000. In the eagle series, the price differences are more extreme. An 1847 eagle in MS62 is a $7,500 coin but in MS63, if available, it could cost $20,000 or more. I believe that more collectors will begin to focus on high quality No Motto gold from the 1840’s and 1850’s in the near future and there are still many issues that a $5,000-10,000 per coin budget can secure a piece that is not that far removed from the Condition Census.

d) Type Two Liberty Head Double Eagles: The Type Two series has sort of fallen through the cracks in recent years. Type One double eagles are remarkably popular with collectors and the Type Three series seems to be an area that is a marketer’s delight right now. That has left the Type Two series as a sort of void. There are two areas in this market that I currently like as good values. The first are the scarcer date Philadelphia issues from 1866 to 1872 in About Uncirculated and above. The second are choice, original common dates in MS62 to MS63. The scarce Philadelphia issues have retained most of their value despite not having promoted in the last few years; imagine what an influx of new collectors might do to prices for these coins. Common dates in MS62 and MS63 are scarce and have dropped quite a bit in price from their highs of a few years ago. At $3,500-4,000 for a choice MS62 and $11,000-13,000 for a nice MS63 I like the value that these offer as type coins.

3. $10,000-25,000

1. Capped Head Quarter Eagles: In this price range, it is hard to beat the Capped Head quarter eagles (produced between 1829 and 1834) for value. All of these issues were produced in limited quantity and even the most “common” date (the 1829) has considerably fewer known than the early half eagles and eagles in this price range. After the market highs of 2006 and 2007, prices on Capped Head quarter eagles have dropped around 15-20% but few pieces have been available at the new lower levels. I especially like choice, original examples that grade between AU55 and MS62. In this grade range you are typically getting an aesthetically appealing coin. A nice About Uncirculated pieces will cost in the mid-teens while an MS62 that is properly graded will run in the low to mid 20’s. The “sleeper” date in this series is the 1833 while the 1832 is tougher than many people realize as well.

2. Classic Head Half Eagles in MS63 and MS64. I’ve already mentioned Classic Head quarter eagles in the first part of this article. I also like high grade Classic Head half eagles. In MS63 and MS64 this type is scarce and when these coins are nice they typically have great cosmetic appeal with lovely coloration and surfaces. Classic Head half eagles were made from 1834 to 1838. The commonest issues are the 1834 Plain 4 and the 1835. If you’d like an example of this design for type purposes, you are very likely going to buy an 1834 or an 1835 but the 1836 and 1838 are much scarcer and priced at just a 10-20% premium in the MS63 to MS64 range. Current price levels are around $11,000-12,000 for a nice MS63 and $18,000-20,000 for a nice MS64. Considering that a full Gem MS65, if available, will run around $60,000-65,000+, I think these MS63 and MS64 examples offer really good value.

3. Condition Census No Motto Issues: This area is a pretty narrow focus, I admit, but I think some of the best values in the entire coin market are in the $10,000-25,000+ Condition Census quality No Motto issues. This includes half eagles and eagles produced in the 1839-1866 era. I would throw the quarter eagles from this era into the mix as well. If you can find them, very high grade (in this case MS63 and higher) Philadelphia gold coins from the 1840’s and 1850’s seem like the best values in this area. The coins tend to be very well made, very attractive and genuinely rare in this grade. Given the fact that there are not many date collectors of these coins, they need to be viewed more as type issues. But it is hard to argue with their rarity in high grades, especially due to the fact that most smaller denomination Philadelphia gold coins struck prior to the Civil War are unknown in Gem and excessively rare even in MS64.

Better Date Type Two Liberty Head Double Eagles: A Re-Evaluation

As recently as a few years ago, collecting Type Two Liberty Head double eagles was very popular. A marketing firm located in the Southwest had actively promoted this series, other firms had jumped on the Type Two bandwagon and the series had caught on with collectors. Then, with little warning, the aforementioned marketing firm shifted their focus onto other series and suddenly the Type Two double eagles were out of favor. This has left the savvy collector with an opportunity that I find very interesting. Before I get specific about the Type Two double eagles that I feel are overlooked and undervalued, let me give you a little bit of background about this series. The Type Two double eagles were produced from 1866 until 1876 and they are so named due to having the second major design of the Liberty Head type; in this case the addition of the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse. These coins were produced at the Philadelphia, San Francisco and Carson City mints. The CC issues are well-known and avidly collected. The San Francisco issues tend to be condition rarities (i.e., they are obtainable in lower grades but scarce in higher grades). It is the Philadelphia issues that, I believe, offer the best value to collectors.

Many of the Philadelphia issues of this design type are extremely common. Dates that fall into this category include the 1873, 1875 and 1876. But there are a few that are scarce in all grades and are priced within the price parameters of many collectors. With the value levels of even common dates double eagles soaring in the recent months, these Philadelphia issues seem like a particularly good value right now.

My first sleeper date is the 1866. It is a numismatically interesting issue as it is the first year-of-issue for the Type Two design. The 1866 is usually seen in lower grades and I consider it to be moderately scarce in the middle to higher AU grades. It is still possible to purchase a very presentable About Uncirculated 1866 double eagle for less than $3,000. Given the fact that prices for this date jump up two to three times in the lowest Uncirculated grade(s), I think nice original AU55 to AU58 coins are very good values.

For many years, the 1868 was THE sleeper date in the entire Type Two series. It is now well-publicized and no longer an especially affordable coin. That said, it is still quite scarce in even EF45 to AU50 and it is a coin that is especially difficult to find with original color and nice surfaces. Trends has risen appreciably for the 1868 douible eagle in the last three years but nice examples still bring full Trends or above. As an example, Heritage 12/09: 1939, graded AU58 by PCGS and verified by CAC (and extremely choice in my opinion) brought $8,625 against a Trends of $8,500.

The 1869 is an issue that I don't see very often and I think it is very undervalued. Nice mid-range to upper-range AU coins are still priced at the $2,500-3,500 level which seems extremely reasonable for a coin that is scarce and which becomes quite rare in higher grades.

While the 1868 is the rarest Philadelphia Type Two double eagle from the standpoint of overall rarity, the 1870 is not far behind. And the beauty of this issue is that it is currently priced at about half the market rate of the 1868. The 1870 is hard to locate even in the lower AU grades and choice, original AU55 to AU58 pieces are great value at current levels. Expect to spend around $4,000-5,000 for a nice AU55 and $5,000-6,000 for an AU58.

One final undervalued Type Two is the 1871. This date has a slightly different rarity profile than the others mentioned. It is comparable to the 1869 and 1870 in terms of overall rarity (in fact it might even be a bit rarer) but it is slightly more available in Uncirculated due the presence of a small hoard which hit the market many years ago. In AU55, PCGS has graded just twenty pieces (with another twenty higher) but the price level remains affordable. The last few 1871 double eagles I have seen in AU55 have traded in the $3,500-4,500 range while AU58's are worth $5,000-6,000.

As with all double eagles, I'd recommend that buyers be patient when seeking these coins. Look for examples with minimal obtrusive marks, non-processed surfaces, and nice natural color. When the right coin does appear for sale, I'd recommend immediate and decisive action as these pieces are becoming more popular with collectors.

Despite the fact that double eagles are easily the most popular denomination of United States gold coin with collectors and investors, there are definite "pockets of value" that the informed individual can locate with a little basic research. In the Type Two series the five Philadelphia issues that I mentioned above offer the collector alot of rarity for the money; not too mention an attractive large-sized coin with nearly an ounce of gold.

Liberty Head Double Eagles

In the past few years, Liberty Head double eagles have become more popular than ever with collectors. I attribute this to a number of reasons:

    My books on all three types of Liberty Head double eagles alerted collectors to the rarity of these coins. Each of the three types have been expertly promoted and marketed by large retailing firms, greatly adding to the number of advanced collectors seeking these coins.

    The price of rare St. Gaudens double eagles rose to the point that most collectors of average means could never hope to assemble a date set. The Liberty Head coinage offered greater “bang for your buck” for the collector of average means.

    The soaring price of gold in the past three years has focused a considerable amount of attention on all large-size gold coins.

Until a few years ago, the prices for the classic rarities in the Liberty Head double eagle series (dates such as the 1854-O, 1856-O, 1861-S Paquet, 1870-CC and the Proof only issues from the 1880’s) were very reasonable in comparison to other important gold coins of comparable rarity. Today, prices for many of these rarities have shot out of sight. Are there still good values in the Liberty Head double eagle series?

I think the answer to this is an unqualified yes. Here are some issues in each of the three major design types that I feel are undervalued:

Type One: In my opinion, the Philadelphia issues struck from 1853 through 1858 are greatly undervalued in higher grade (AU55 and above). Despite high original mintage figures, these have comparably low survival rates and are typically seen in low grades when available. Another date I like is the 1859. This date is far rarer in high grades than most people realize.

Type Two: Virtually every Type Two struck before 1872 is very scarce in Uncirculated. In my opinion, many of these dates are undervalued, especially in MS62 or above. Very high quality Type Two double eagles of any date (even common issues like the 1873, 1875, 1875-S and 1876) are very rare in properly graded MS63 and above and are not fully appreciated as type coins.

Type Three: Although they have risen in price in the past few years, the rare Philadelphia issues from the 1880’s are still undervalued. I almost never see business strikes from 1881, 1882 and 1886 and when I do, the coins tend to be awful. Pleasing, original examples of these dates in AU50 are even rarer than their low mintages suggest. A slightly less “sexy” date that I think is very scarce and undervalued is the 1880, especially in MS61 or better.