I purchased this coin for $372,000 which is an all-time auction record for this issue. In my opinion, the 1875 eagle is still undervalued when compared to other classic rarities which were produced as business strikes…Read More
I first found out about the offering of a complete set of Liberty Head eagles from an observant client who emailed me a link in early January. He’s a succinct guy and his subject line said it all: “Epic collection of Eagles to be offered.”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
Between 1795 and 1933 a total of 36 major gold types were issued for circulation. I’m going to discuss each type in more detail with suggestions on how and what to buy and some “alternative” dates to spice-up a type set.Read More
At the recent 2017 FUN show, Douglas Winter Numismatics purchased the 1850-O Eliasberg eagle for a price which is likely a record for any business strike ten dollar gold piece from the New Orleans mint...Read More
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!
For most collectors, assembling a comlete set of Liberty Head eagles is a daunting task, to say the least. There are 184 different issues (including major varieties) struck from 1838 to 1907. While none of these individual coins is impossible to locate, many are rare to very rare and nearly every issue struck prior to 1878 is rare in higher grades and quite expensive. So how can a collector of more average means approach what, in my opinion, is one of the most interesting and overlooked denominations in all of American numismatics. The answer is to assemble a year set of Liberty Head eagles. This set would include one example of each year that this denomination was produced. Instead of being close to two hundred coins in order to finish the set, it is now only 69 coins. Even better, the savings is immense as it eliminates some of the very costly issues like the 1863, 1864-S, 1870-CC and 1875 and lets the collector replace these with interesting but much less costly alternatives.
Let's take a look at each year from 1838 until 1866 in this set (in Part Two, we'll look at the 1867-1907 issues). I'll list what I think is the best issue for each year in this set along with suggested grades.
1838: Only one issue, from Philadelphia, is available. This issue is very popular and significant as the first eagle produced with the new Liberty Head design and it is the first coin of this denomination produced since 1804. I'd splurge on this and buy as nice a coin as you can afford; certainly at least an EF40.
1839: This is another one-mint year but with two types available: Head of 1838 and Head of 1840. The former is far more available and can be obtained in nice EF without great difficulty. This is another issue I'd splurge on as it is a limited type with a novel design.
1840: The last of the three Philadelphia-only issues at the beginning of the set and a significant first-year coin. I've always liked the 1840 eagle and find it to be underrated. I'd buy a nice AU53 to AU58 for this set.
1841: This is the first year in which more than one mint made eagles as the New Orleans facility began production in 1841. The 1841-O is a really neat issue but it is rare and expensive, so I'd probably go with an 1841 Philadelphia. I'd choose a nice original AU55 to AU58 coin.
1842: Beginning this year, the collector can select from Philadelphia and New Orleans issues. In a year like 1842, both are reasonably common although the 1842-O becomes very rare in higher grades. I'd go with the 1842-O in the AU50 to AU55 range.
1843: Surprisingly, the Philadelphia eagle dated 1843 is scarcer than its high mintage New Orleans counterpart. I'd go with a nice Choice AU 1843.
1844: The little-known 1844 is actually a rare coin in all grades and a real stopper in AU50 and above. Thus, I'd go with the 1844-O and look for a nice mid-range AU that had good color and surfaces.
1845: Again, the Philadelphia eagle is rarer but the 1845 is not nearly as hard to locate as the 1844. I'd look for a nice 1845-P in the lower AU grades as I think this issue is very good value in this range.
1846: This is the last of the tougher date Philadelphia issues for the next decade+. I'd stick with a nice AU50 to AU55 and I'd be patient for one with good color and fewer marks than average. In my opinion, nice 1846-P eagles remain undervalued at current levels.
1847: Both the 1847-P and 1847-O are common issues. I'd go for a nice AU55 to AU58 example of the New Orleans coin.
1848: The 1848-O isn't really rare but it is a tough coin to locate above AU53 to AU55, especially with original color and surfaces. I'd look for a nice example, keeping in mind that all pieces known have weak overall strikes.
1849: I'm a big fan of the 1849-O eagle as a date and believe that nice examples in all grades above EF40 are much harder to locate than generally believed. The Philadelphia issue is affordable in grades up to and including MS61/62.
1850: There are two varieties of 1850-P eagle: the Small Date and the Large date. The former is much scarcer and it is very overlooked. I'd look for a nice mid-range AU example.
1851: Both the Philadelphia and New Orleans eagles from 1851 are fairly non-descript issues. I'd stick with an 1851-P and look for a pleasing AU58.
1852: The 1852-P is very common while the 1852-O is a scarce to rare issue. I like the latter quite a bit and would probably rather have a pleasing EF45 for the same price that I'd be spending on an MS60 to MS61 1852-P.
1853: The most interesting issue struck in 1853 is the 1853/2 overdate from Philadelphia. This is the only confirmed overdate in the entire Liberty Head eagle series and it is an underappreciated coin in all grades. I'd look for a nice AU50 to AU55.
1854: With the opening of the San Francisco mint, the number of facilities coining eagles grows to three in 1854. The 1854-S isn't a really scarce coin but it is a neat date and it is certainly the issue I'd choose to represent this year for my date set. Look for an AU50 to AU55 example with minimal bagmarks.
1855: Of the three eagles struck in 1855, the Philadelphia coin is common, the New Orleans coin is scarce and the San Francisco coin is rare. I would personally choose the 1855-O and I'd look for a coin in the EF45 to AU53 range.
1856: For this year, Philadelphia and San Francisco are common while the 1856-O is scarce to very scarce. I like the 1856-O eagle and would vote to include a choice EF45 to AU53 example in my year set.
1857: The mintage figures for all three issues are lower in 1857 than they were in the previous few years. The 1857-P is a sleeper that is still a good value in circulated grades while the 1857-O is undervalued. But I'd probably go with the 1857-S because of its historic association with the popular S.S. Central America double eagles dated 1857-S.
1858: The 1858-P is a famous rarity with just 2,521 struck. If you can find (and afford) a pleasing EF example, I'd strongly recommend including it in this set. The 1858-S is a rare coin as well. For practical purposes, you might want to pursue the more affordable 1858-O in AU50 to AU55.
1859: As this decade draws to a close, mintages continue to shrink. The 1859-P is fairly common while the 1859-O is very rare and the 1859-S is rare. To keep your powder dry for the rare coins that await in the 1860's, I'd suggest looking for a choice AU 1859-P.
1860: This is the final issue from New Orleans until 1879 so it seems natural to choose the 1860-O. The Philadelphia issue is common while the San Francisco issue is very rare. An 1860-O in AU50 to AU55 is affordable yet historic.
1861: Beginning with this year, we are back to two mints striking eagles: Philadelphia and San Francisco. The former is common while the latter is scarce to very scarce. I'd choose a nice AU58 to MS61 1861-P eagle as it is by far the most affordable Civil War issue.
1862: Until recently the 1862-P was an undiscovered sleeper but prices have risen as collectors learn of its true scarcity. The 1862-S is very rare and seldom seen above EF45. I'd stick with an Extremely Fine example of the 1862-P.
1863: This year is among the most challenging in this set as both issues are very rare. The Philadelphia eagle is a major rarity with just 1,248 examples produced. The San Francisco eagle has a mintage of 10,000 and it is more available. I'd stick with a nice EF example of the 1863-S but if a sensible 1863-P became available I'd consider it strongly as it is still very undervalued.
1864: Think the 1863 eagles were tough? Try the 1864. The 1864-P is rare with 3,580 struck while the 1864-S is one of the great rarities in the series with only 2,500 struck. You really can't go wrong with either coin for your set but as you as more likely to find an 1864-P than an 1864-S, I'd have to suggest going for the former. I'd splurge on this date and buy the nicest quality you can afford.
1865: Things don't get much easier in 1865. The Philadelphia issue is very rare while there are two varieties from San Francisco: the Normal Date and the Inverted Date. I'd choose the latter due to its "coolness factor" and the difficulty of locating the other issues. An EF40 to AU50 is going to be about the best you'll see for this year.
1866: This is a numismatically significant issue as it represents a transitional year. The San Francisco mint struck eagles with and without the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on the reverse while Philadelphia only made with motto coins. I'd opt for the rare 1866-S No Motto which had a mintage of only 8,500. Anything grading higher than EF45 will be very expensive.
So there you have it. A total of 28 issues make up the No Motto part of the Liberty Head eagle set. There are three mints to choose from for some years and only a few dates (the 1863, 1864 and 1865 in particular) that will be hard to find and high priced. Assuming you follow the suggestions for dates and grades that I made above, we are probably talking about an overall average per coin cost of around $4,000-5,000. This translates to a low cost of around $112,000 and a high cost of around $140,000. If you were to pick the most common issue for each date and stick with coins in the EF40 to AU50 range, this would probably lower the cost to less than $100,000.
In Part Two of this article, which will be published in February 2012, we will look at the 1867-1907 dates. We'll see the introduction of the Carson City mint, the resumption of the New Orleans mint, the short duration of the Denver mint...and we'll have a good ol' numismatic time.