HomeUS Coins1870-S Three-Dollar Gold Coin : A Collector's Guide

1870-S Three-Dollar Gold Coin : A Collector’s Guide

1870-S Three Dollar Gold Coin. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.
1870-S Three Dollar Gold Coin. Image: Heritage Auctions / CoinWeek.

By Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker for CoinWeek Notes …..

The existence of the single known 1870-S Three Dollar Gold coin was first confirmed in hobby circles by numismatist Edgar H. Adams, who wrote:

“Only one specimen of this coin is known, this being now in the possession of a well-known New York [William H. Woodin] collector. It is said that the dies were used by a coiner of the San Francisco Mint to strike two specimens in 1870. One of those was placed in the cornerstone of a public building of that city. The mint records do not mention the issue of a coin of this denomination and letter.”

Along with the coin, which was offered at the William Woodin sale, was a slip of paper (apparently produced by J.B. Harmstead) that read:

“This is a duplicate of the coin struck for the cornerstone of the San Francisco Mint and the only one in existence.”

Coin dealer and auctioneer S.H. Chapman had bought the coin for $1,450 [other sources say $1,500]. Chapman listed the coin as lot 1160 in the Woodin sale and described it thusly:

1870. San Francisco. General type identical to preceding, but the mintmark is smaller and narrower than usual. Over the wreath on reverse appear two or three minute scratches, which are hardly noticeable to the ordinary eye. The piece evidently at one time had a loop attached. The milling appears regular. A reserved price of $1,000 is placed upon this lot.

Several of the greatest numismatists in the United States, who have given the coin careful examination, say the piece is authentic and official, basing their decisions more on its general appearance and workmanship than on any written certificate or letter.

Undoubtedly, this is the most remarkable gold coin of the regular series and is, naturally, the only one which will ever be offered at public or private sale.

At the sale, the coin was purchased by Waldo Newcomer.

In the 1940s, a few owners later, Louis Eliasberg bought the coin.

Eliasberg purchased the 1870-S before the sale of the H.R. Lee Collection for a sum probably less than the $20,000 that a “midwestern dealer” had asked for it. The Stack’s catalog included this little detail:

Eliasberg estate realized nearly $700,000. This example is circulated with evidence of jewelry use. EX40-AU50 (details?).

It is possible that this coin was struck to be placed in the cornerstone of the new San Francisco Mint building. Or, it could be a second example struck, with the first being placed in the cornerstone. An 1870-S Half Dime is also allegedly placed in the cornerstone as well. The Mint records that Adams referred stated that just one example was made. Q. David Bowers also says that the cornerstone was reportedly opened at some point before the building was destroyed and it was found to contain no 1870-S $3 gold coin.

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Market Data and Noteworthy Specimens

  • PCGS AU50 #46095412: San Francisco Mint Chief Coiner Joseph B. Harmstead; possibly Francis Harmstead (his wife, mounted in a necklace, per Nancy Oliver and Richard Kelly); Sarah Fay (Francis’ oldest daughter, on her mother’s death in 1885); Charles Luther Fay (Sarah’s husband, on her death in 1903); Charles Ralph Fay (Charles Luther’s son, on his father’s death in 1906); Harry Terry Van Camp, advertised in The Numismatist in April 1907; private treaty transaction to William H. Woodin; “The William H. Woodin Collection”, Thomas Elder, March 1911, Lot 1160 – $1,450; S.H. Chapman; Waldo C. Newcomer – $2,000; B. Max Mehl, 1931; “Colonel” E.H.R. Green; Green Estate 1936; St. Louis coin dealer B.G. Johnson; Johnson consigned the coin to Hollinbeck Coin Company (Art Kagin), which offered it to Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr. on July 5, 1944 for $8,500 – Eliasberg passed; Johnson consigned the coin to Abe Kosoff in 1945, who offered it to Eliasberg again – Eliasberg again passed; B.G. Johnson to Celina Coin Company (Ted and Carl Brandts), September 11, 1945 – $7,000, Celina Coin Company marketed the coin in the December 1945 issue of The Numismatist; Celina Coin Company sold the coin to Stack’s (as agent for Eliasberg), January 1946 – $11,550; Louis E. Eliasberg, Sr.; Eliasberg Estate, 1976; “The United States Gold Coin Collection”, Bowers and Ruddy, October 1982, Lot 296 – $687,500. Harry W. Bass, Jr. As PCGS AU50 #46095412. Harry W. Bass, Jr. “The Harry W. Bass Core Collection, Part II”, Heritage Auctions, January 5, 2023, Lot 9013 – $5,520,000. Bass novelty insert. Pedigree research assisted by Heritage Auctions.

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Coin Specifications

Country: United States of America
Year Of Issue: 1870
Denomination: Three Dollars (USD)
Mintmark: S (San Francisco)
Mintage: 1 known
Alloy: .900 Gold, .100 Copper
Weight: 5.015 g
Diameter: 20.50 mm
Edge: Reeded
OBV Designer: James Barton Longacre
REV Designer: James Barton Longacre
Quality: Business Strike


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Bowers, Q. David. United States Gold Coins: An Illustrated History. Bowers & Merena. 2nd Edition. 1984. 143.

Breen, Walter. “Major Varieties of the United States Three Dollar Gold Pieces” Numismatic Scrapbook Magazine, January 1965. 268.

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CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes
CoinWeek Notes presents expert analysis and insights from Charles Morgan and Hubert Walker, the award-winning editors of CoinWeek.com.

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