San Francisco Liberty Head Eagles 1854-1878: A Date-by-Date Analysis, Part One

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 $10.00 NGC AU58

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 $10.00 PCGS AU53

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 $10.00 NGC AU55

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 $10.00 PCGS AU55

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 $10.00 NGC AU58

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 $10.00 PCGS AU53

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 $10.00 PCGS VF35

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 $10.00 NGC AU58

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 $10.00 NGC AU55

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 $10.00 NGC AU50

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 $10 PCGS VF30

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 $10.00 NGC AU58

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 $10.00 Inverted Date, PCGS AU50

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 $10.00 NGC AU53, No Motto

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 and let him explain even more about these fascinating coins!

Assembling A Year Set of Liberty Head Eagles, Part Two: 1867-1907

In the first part of this article, I discussed the ins and outs of assembling a year set of Liberty Head eagles from 1838 through 1866. In case you've already forgotten the premise, it's that a collector can purchase one example of each year that this denomination/type was produced in order to save money and still be an active participant in this very interesting (and very long-lived) series. Without further ado, let's go to the videotape, Bob...

1867: Only two mints struck eagles this year. Philadelphia is rarer and less expensive than San Francisco. I'd go with a nice 1867-P eagle and might even stretch a bit as it is undervalued.

1868: Neither the Philadelphia or San Francisco eagle of this year is hugely rare or even all that interesting. Either one, in EF45 to AU53, seems like a good purchase. Look for a coin with nice original surfaces.

1869: The 1869-P is a rare, low mintage date that is still not all that expensive. I'd go with a nice example with original surfaces and would even stretch for a high end (AU50 or better) example.

1870: This is a numismatically significant year as the Carson City mint began operations. The 1870-CC would be a great choice for this set but it is rare and expensive. The P and S mint eagles are both scarce and undervalued. It is hard to choose from one or the other!

1871: The 1871-CC is among the more affordable eagles from this mint produced before 1880 so it would be a good choice for this set. The 1871-P has a mintage of only 1,820 and it is very undervalued in all grades.

1872: The only affordable eagle dated 1872 is the San Francisco coin which is fairly common up to AU55. The 1872-P is very rare as is the 1872-CC. I'd probably settle for a nice AU 1872-S.

1873: For gold collectors, this is a banner year with many interesting issues. I love the 1873-P with its mintage of 800 and the 1873-CC is one of the three rarest eagles from this mint. Even the 1873-S is scarce but it is the most available of the three. Still, I'd splurge and go for a nice 1873-P.

1874: Mintages increased this year and the 1874-CC is the most available CC eagle struck before 1880. I'd look for a nice example in EF45 to AU55.

1875: The stopper this year is the 1875-P which has a mintage of just 100 business strikes and fewer than ten survivors. San Francisco didn't make eagles this year so your only realistic option is the 1875-CC which is very scarce but not impossible like the 1875-P.

1876: Another very interesting year with three possible dates available and all scarce. I personally like the 1876 as just 687 business strikes were made. The 1876-S is a sleeper which is far rarer than its mintage of 5,000 would suggest. A nice example of any of the three issues would be a great addition to this year set.

1877: The Philadelphia eagle is very rare (797 struck) while the CC is very scarce. The 1877-S is fairly common but a bit boring. I'd personally look for a nice AU 1877.

1878: Mintages increase beginning with this year as does availability. While the 1878-CC is very rare, the 1878-S is only semi-scarce in AU and the 1878-P is the first date in this set that is actually available in Mint State for less than $10,000+.

1879: For the first time, four mints struck Liberty Head eagles as the New Orleans mint reopened. I personally love the 1879-O, given its very low mintage (1,500 coins) and its numismatic significance. The 1879-CC is very rare also but much more expensive than the 1879-O.

1880: Another four mint year. Nothing struck this year is rare although the CC and O issues are extremely hard to llocate in AU58 and above. I'd select a nice 1880-O or 1880-CC in AU55 to AU58.

1881: Yet another four mint year. The scarcest issue is the 1881-O while the 1881-CC is actually somewhat available in higher grades. I think I'd pursue a nice 1881-CC.

1882: The second to last of the four mint years and another with no real rarities. I would look for a nice 1882-CC or 1882-CC in the middle to upper AU grades.

1883: The last four mint year of the eagle denomination for many years (until 1906) and one with a notable rarity: the 1883-O which had a mintage of only 800 coins. This issue has become quite expensive so it might make sense to look for a nice AU example of the 1883-CC.

1884: The New Orleans mint stopped making gold coins until 1888 so only three mints made eagles this year. The scarcest is the 1884-CC. The 1884-P is a sleeper and I would look for a nice, original MS62.

1885: Only two mints made eagles in 1885. Both are common and not especially interesting.

1886: Same comments as with the 1885. Look for a nice MS62 to MS63 coin.

1887: Ditto. The 1887-P is slightly scarcer and undervalued in MS62 to MS64.

1888: The New Orleans mint restarted production of eagles in 1888 and I'd suggest an 1888-O in MS62. The 1888-P is scarce and undervalued in Uncirculated.

1889: Of the two issues made this year, the 1889-P is the more interesting with a low mintage of only 4,485. It is very rare above MS62.

1890: Carson City resumed production of eagles in 1890 but San Francisco ceased striking this denomination until 1892. I personally like the 1890-CC in the lower Uncirculated grades as a choice for this set.

1891: Only the Philadelphia and Carson City mint made eagles in 1891. The 1891-CC is common in grades up to MS63 and a nice, original example is sure to add some "oomph" to this year set.

1892: After a three year hiatus the New Orleans mint struck eagles again. The 1892-O is available in MS62 for less than $2,500.

1893: As this is the last year that Carson City struck coins, I'd go with an 1890-CC as a ceremonial sign-off to this mint's coins. It is very rare in Uncirculated but available in AU grades.

1894: For the nest two years, there were three mints making eagles. The 1894-S has a mintage of just 25,000 and it is very underrated.

1895: The same is true with the 1895-S. A nice MS61 to MS62 is a hard coin to find and a good value at current levels.

1896: Now we are back to two issues: Philadelphia and San Francisco. The 1896-S is moderately scarce and probably more interesting than the dirt common 1896.

1897: And now we're back to three as the New Orleans mint resumed eagle production. I would go with an MS62 1897-O.

1898: A ho-hum year with two common issues, the 1898-P and the 1898-S.

1899: This year sees three issues with the 1899-O being the scarcest and most interesting. This is the hardest of the late date New Orleans eagles to find. Look for a nice MS62 to MS63 example.

1900: New century, two issues, both kind of nondescript. I'd go with the 1900-S.

1901: The 1901-S is the single most available Liberty Head eagle in higher grades. Buy a beautiful MS65 coin so that your set has at least one Gem coin.

1902: Two choices, both boring.

1903: New Orleans resumed operations this year and a nice MS62 to MS63 would make a good addition to the set.

1904: Two choices this year with the New Orleans being the more interesting. I would opt with a nice MS63.

1905: New Orleans didn't make eagles this year but San Francisco did. The 1905-S is actually a bit of a sleeper.

1906: We are back to a final four issue year as Denver made eagles for the first time in 1906. While the 1906-D is a common coin, I would include a nice Uncirculated piece as it is numismatically significant.

1907: The last year of issue. Three coins are available with the 1907-S being the scarcest. Your choice here, Mr. Eagle.

Do you have questions about assembling a set of Liberty Head eagles? If so please contact Doug Winter by email at

Was This 1875 $10.00 Worth $345,000?

With more than $75 million dollars in rare coins having sold at the pre-ANA and ANA auctions, it is inevitable that some amazing individual pieces might have been lost in the shuffle. One coin that hasn't received much publicity is the 1875 eagle in the Stack's-Bowers sale (lot 7732 and graded AU-53+ by PCGS) that brought $345,000. 1875 $10.00 PCGS 53+, lot 7732, image courtesy of Stack's-Bowers

As far as I know, this is by far a record price for the 1875 eagle at auction, and I believe it is also an all-time record price for any business strike Liberty Head eagle.

Was this coin a good value?

When I first saw that this coin was reserved at $300,000 (meaning that you had to bid at least this amount, plus the 15% buyers premium) I was pretty aghast. This exact coin, then graded AU53 by NGC, had last sold for $41,400 in the Heritage 2001 ANA and the last auction trade of relevance was $74,750 for an NGC AU55 in the DLRC Richmond I sale of July 2004. My initial reaction was, "this coin will never sell and the consignor is being unrealistic."

But A LOT has changed in the coin market since 2001 and 2004. For one, the formerly-unpopular Liberty Head eagle series has become a collector favorite. I have written in the past that it only takes a small number of wealthy, passionate collectors to turn a formerly-overlooked series into one that is "hot." And this is exactly what has happened with Ten Libs. In a few minutes I made a quick 180 degree turn from "it will never sell" to " might actually sell."

Before we discuss the market for the 1875 eagle, I think its a good idea to talk a little about the issue itself.

With a mintage of just 100 business strikes, the 1875 is the undisputed key to the series. I believe that fewer than ten business strikes are known. Most of the 1875 eagles, like the one is the Stack's-Bowers sale, aren't especially attractive. This date tends to come with heavily abraded surfaces and since all the known examples are prooflike, these marks tend to be magnified. And this is further compounded by the fact that most 1875 eagles have been cleaned or dipped and do not have nice, warm color.

Here's another way of thinking about this issue. Let's say there are actually nine business strikes known. Of these nine, at least six or seven are off the market in tightly-held collections. This suddenly leaves us with maybe two or three examples that might be for sale. Of these two or three, at least one is going to be a coin that even by the standards of this date is going to be ugly enough that a wealthy collector will not want to use it to fill a hole in his set. That leaves serious collectors of Liberty Head eagles with very few chances to purchase the "right" coin.

Which is why this 1875 was being sold at a perfect time.

There were a few others factors working in this coin's favor. For one, it was in a PCGS holder and any of the Registry Set collectors thinking about this coin would have preferred it to its previous NGC holder. Secondly, it was a "+" coin, meaning that the graders thought it was above-average quality for the grade. I'd have to agree with them. For an 1875 eagle in AU53 it was actually a decent coin (though certainly not a "pretty" one in the true sense of the word) and I don't think the grade was pushed because of the Great Rarity factor.

The major factor was timing. Selling it at the ANA was a good decision and there was the X factor of wealthy collectors looking for places to put their money in these uncertain times.

But I think the numismatic significance of this sale is not fully appreciated by many dealers and collectors.

Only recently, circulated rare date 19th century gold coins were popular issues but they were never really the "big buck" coins that 18th and 20th century issues--typically in high grades--were. Until recently, the rap on coins like the 1875 eagle were that although they were really rare, collectors weren't sophisticated enough to pay huge premiums for rarity over condition. There were exceptions to this maxim (the 1854-O, 1856-O and 1870-CC double eagles, for starters) but these exceptions were almost always big, popular coins like double eagles.

I think the argument for rarity over condition grew louder a few years ago when coins like the 1854-S quarter eagle began to sell for $250,000+ in EF grades.

You can make the case that the 1875 eagle is a "better" coin than the 1854-S quarter eagle for a number of reasons. Firstly, its rarer. There are as many as 15 examples of the latter known and many are in wretched condition. Secondly, the 1854-S is a smaller coin, size-wise, and, as we all know, size does matter when it comes to value. Thirdly, the Liberty Head eagle series is probably more popular with collectors at this point in time than the quarter eagles of this design.

Coincidentally, in the same Stack's-Bowers sale there was a no-grade example of the 1854-S. It wasn't a "sort-of" no-grade; it was a total, absolute no-grade, and it still brought $201,250.

Using this sale as a measuring stick, I think the 1875 eagle was good value.

If that's not a compelling enough argument for the 1875 eagle, then how about this? In the Stack's-Bowers sale there was a Proof 1975-S "No S" Dime that sold for $345,000. It is (currently) a major modern rarity with just two known and its the first one ever to come up for sale.

But its a frickin' Roosevelt Dime...and a coin that half the dealers at the ANA (myself included) probably wouldn't have been "smart" enough to have paid $25,000 for if it had walked up to our table(s).

Using that sale as a measuring stick, the 1875 eagle might have been more than a good deal; it might have been a great one.

I remember talking to David hall a few years ago about the 1875 eagle. He was still collecting this series and he hadn't yet purchased this date. I remember him asking me what I thought he'd have to pay for one (I think I said around $100,000 at the time) and I remember him, presciently, asking me, "Why isn't this a half a million dollar coin?"

His question seemed sort of goofy then. It seems really smart now.

The Johnson-Blue Collection of Liberty Head Eagles: An Analysis

Every few years, an auction takes place that gives me a bad case of "Dinosaur Syndrome." By this, I mean the coins bring so much more than what I bid that I think to myself that I'm a dinosaur and am out of touch with current Numismatic Reality. After I talk myself out of this and take a deep breath or two, I find that analyzing the sale is a useful tool for my bruised psyche. Just prior to the 2010 Boston ANA convention, Stack's sold a specialized group of Liberty Head eagles that they named the "Johnson Blue" collection. These coins were interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, they were clearly fresh to the market and, I am told, many of them were purchased by the consignor back in the 1980's. Secondly, the coins mostly had original surfaces with a nice crusty appearance; a welcome change from the usual processed better date Liberty Head eagles that one sees available in today's market. Finally, there were a number of dates that you typically don't see much anymore (such as 1863, 1864 and 1865) in grades that were above-average.

I had a feeling that this was going to be a strong sale, but the final results were pretty stunning to me. In some cases my bids were close to winning a lot; in other cases they were laughably distant from the eventual final bid. Let's take a look at some of the more significant eagles in this collection and ponder on their prices.

1842-O MS61 PCGS, Lot 1094. Image Courtesy of Stack's

1842-O, Graded MS61 by PCGS. Lot 1094. Stack's sort of underplayed this lot in the catalog, but New Orleans eagle collectors knew that this was a special coin. There are just three Uncirculated examples known to me and this fresh example had excellent color and surfaces. The last Uncirculated piece to sell was Superior 5/08: 103, graded MS61 by NGC and pedigreed to the S.S. Republic shipwreck. It brought $29,900 but I discounted this price as the coin was not attractive. But given this prior sales record, I bid $40,000 for the Johnson-Blue example and thought I had a decent shot of buying it. I wasn't even close. The coin brought $74,750 which, to me, is an incredibly strong price and one that shows me the depth of this market.

1848-O AU55 PCGS, Lot 1101. Image Courtesy of Stack's

1848-O, Graded AU55 by PCGS. Lot 1101. This was a nice example of a date that isn't really all that rare in the higher AU grades. I figured it would grade AU58 at NGC. There have been at least seven different auction records between $5,000 and $6,000 in the last six years for AU55 coins and a nice AU58 is worth $7,500 to $8,500. This coin brought $12,650, or around double what I would have paid. And results like this set the tone for the whole evening.

1852-O AU55 PCGS, Lot 1108. Image Courtesy of Stack's

1852-O, Graded AU55 by PCGS. Lot 1108. I like this date very much but wasn't really overwhelmed by the quality of this coin. It was what I call "product." This means a coin that I would be happy to own but since it is just so-so for the grade, I wouldn't bid strongly for it. There have been at least nine auction trades in the last seven years for 1852-O eagles in AU55 (mostly in NGC holders and mostly low end for the grade) and they have typically brought between $5,000 and $6,000. This example sold for $8,912.50. While I don't regard this price as "astonishing" I do think it is very strong; especially when one considers that Trends for an 1852-O eagle in this grade is only $8,750.

1862 AU58 PCGS, Lot 1133. Image Courtesy of Stack's

1862, Graded AU58 by PCGS. Lot 1133. This is an interesting date. It is common in the lower circulated grades and only moderately scarce in AU53 to AU55 but it is very rare in properly graded AU58 and there are just two known to me in Uncirculated. The Johnson-Blue coin was among the best 1862 eagles I've seen; clean and lustrous with good color and nice eye appeal. But I didn't think it would upgrade. Enough of these have traded in AU58 that I expected a nice PCGS AU58 like this to bring $5,000-6,000; possibly as much as $7,500 given the nature of this sale. The final price realized was $25,300. What makes this price even more remarkable was that the far superior Bass IV: 681 coin, graded MS62 by PCGS, sold for just $12,650. Maybe I'm totally out of touch with the market, but I think you could have taken the exact 1862 eagle that sold in this auction and shown it to five very sharp gold dealers at $7,500 before the sale and all five (myself included) would have passed.

1863 AU50 PCGS, Lot 1135. Image Courtesy of Stack's

1863, Graded AU50 by PCGS, Lot 1135. I was reasonably certain that this coin was going to be a bidder favorite. The 1863 is among the rarest Liberty Head eagles with just 1,218 struck. There hadn't been a piece available at auction since Stack's 9/06: 1492 (a raw "AU" that sold for $21,850) and just five slabbed pieces had sold since 2000 (including the amazing PCGS MS63 that was ex: Bass IV: 683 and which, at just $52,900, has to rank as one of the single biggest bargains in the final Bass sale). The Johnson Blue coin was a bit "ticky" but it had nice color and was notable for its originality. It brought $27,600 which seems like an incredible price given that Trends is $17,500 and CDN Bid is $15,000. I'd say it is actually a pretty good value and that published price information is way too low; and should be changed to reflect the true value of this extremely rare issue.

1864 AU53 PCGS, Lot 1138. Image Courtesy of Stack's

1864 Graded AU53 by PCGS. Lot 1138. The 1864 is not as rare as the 1863 (mintage this year increased to a "whopping" 3,500) but its Civil War issuance makes it popular. The last comparable coin to sell at auction was an NGC AU53 (Superior 9/08: 458) that went for $10,925. The Johnson Blue coin was one of the nicer AU examples of this date that I've seen and I thought it was a good candidate to upgrade to AU55. That said, I never expected it to sell for $23,000. Especially since an NGC MS61 had brought only $16,766 back in Heritage 3/05 auction. But the market has clearly changed for Liberty Head eagles and yesterday's prices suddenly look like the bargains that I've been ranting about for the last decade+.

1865 AU53 PCGS, Lot 1139. Image Courtesy of Stack's

1865 Graded AU53 by PCGS. Lot 1139. The last of the four important Civil War Philadelphia eagles in this collection and a rare, underrated issue with an original mintage of 3,980. I find the 1865 to be a harder coin to locate than the 1864 although the PCGS population figures do not support this. The Johnson-Blue coin was a decent AU53 which was a trifle on the dull side but which had nice color and a good overall look. It sold for $9,775 which I though was a pretty reasonable price, given what the 1862 and 1864 eagles sold for. The last AU53 to trade at auction was an NGC piece, Heritage 2009 CSNS: 3844, that sold cheaply at $5,463. The Johnson-Blue coin brought more because it was nicer. Trends on this date is only $10,000 in AU55 and I think it should be raised to reflect the true rarity of this issue.

1870-CC EF45 PCGS, Lot 1149. Image Courtesy of Stack's

1870-CC Graded EF45 by PCGS. Lot 1149. This was one of my favorite coins in the sale. It was a choice, original example of a date that is recognized as the key eagle from the Carson City mint but which is, at the same time, a coin that is still undervalued in many respects. My gut feeling was that this coin was worth in the $40,000-45,000 range and I bid $35,000. I did not win the coin as it sold for $46,000. With Trends at $45,000 this seems like a very strong price for the issue but I actually think that while not "cheap" it was a pretty good value for the buyer. There have been very few nice 1870-CC eagles available since 2007 and the last decent piece to trade at auction, a PCGS EF40, brought $40,250 as Lot 2147 in the Heritage June 2008 sale.

What did this sale prove to me? The first thing was that it reiterated (for about the 8,776th time...) that there is a huge demand for nice fresh coins and when they become available, published price levels often have to be ignored if you want to buy them. The second thing was that the Liberty Head eagle series has really come of age. With the Liberty Head double eagle series out of the price range for many collectors due to the high price of the rare issues, eagles are no longer regarded as a poor cousin. There are clearly a number of collectors assembling date sets of eagles and many of the dates that were ignored in the distant past are now in demand. If a coin is high in the Condition Census, in a PCGS holder and attractive for the date and grade there are eager collectors who are not bashful about paying up for the coin(s). My guess is that Liberty Head half eagles will be the next series to show this surge of interest and if a fresh deal of these does become available, I wonder if we will see a repeat of the Dinosaur Syndrome where I leave another auction with my prehensile tail tucked between my legs.