Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, markets, and coin collecting #391
A Weekly Column by Greg Reynolds …..
Liberty Head double eagles ($20 gold coins) were minted from 1850 to 1907. Before 1850, the largest U.S. coin denomination was the $10 gold piece (the eagle). This discussion is about collecting circulated double eagles of the second type, those that date from 1866 to 1876. Other than the first four Carson City Mint dates, 1870-CC to 1873-CC, representatives of all of the dates in Extremely Fine or higher grades may be purchased for less than $3,500 each!
Much of the appeal of circulated double eagles stems from the role of these coins in history. Collectors of double eagles ‘by date’ tend to be more interested in history than in quality.
It would be incorrect to put forth generalizations about the role of U.S. gold coins in all areas of the U.S. during the entire 19th century. Not only did the demand for and the roles of gold coins change over time, these varied considerably by region, by locality and by industry. Nevertheless, some general remarks provide an idea of the importance of double eagles in the economy.
During the second half of the 19th century, literally millions of double eagles were struck and circulated throughout the U.S. In most areas of the nation during much of the entire 19th century, people were nervous about paper money and many businessmen did not often accept checks for large transactions. In some regions, double eagles were typically the currency of choice for transactions that were considered ‘large’, especially in the West and the South.
Paper money and checks were considered inferior to gold coins for payment purposes by a large number of affluent merchants in the 19th century. A $20 bill was often valued in terms of its actual or estimated equivalents in gold coins, which varied depending upon the region, issuer, then-current economic conditions, and time period within the 19th century.
Now, in the 21st century, there is not a medium of exchange that played the same role that gold coins did during the 19th century. Now, most payments for expensive goods are affected with credit cards, debit cards, wire transfers, direct deposits or hand-signed checks.
Especially before 1890, many U.S. citizens thought of gold as true money, and other forms of payment as just representations of money. Double eagles were very popular and played an important role in the minds of affluent U.S. citizens, a role which was unrelated to art or to coin collecting.
Types of Double Eagles
In a discussion in April, circulated type one double eagles were covered. Although a significant number of people collect Liberty Head Double Eagles ‘by date’ (and U.S. Mint location), a far greater number of people collect double eagles ‘by design type’. Only six double eagles ($20 gold coins) are needed for a complete type set:
- Liberty Head ‘No Motto’ (1850-66)
- Liberty Head ‘With Motto – TWENTY D.’ (1866-76)
- Liberty Head ‘With Motto’ and with the word ‘DOLLARS’ (1877-1907)
- Saint Gaudens, High Relief (1907)
- Saint Gaudens, ‘No Motto’ (1907-08)
- Saint Gaudens, ‘With Motto’(1908-33)
In 1866, the motto ‘In God We Trust’ was added to the reverse designs of double eagles, eagles, half eagles ($5 gold coins), silver dollars, half dollars and quarters. Three Cent Silvers, half dimes, dimes and quarter eagles were then generally thought to be too small to accommodate the addition of four more words without removing design elements.
The design of the shield on type two double eagles is artistically distinct from the shield on type one double eagles. On type three double eagles, Miss Liberty’s head is positioned differently. There are other differences among the types of Liberty Head double eagles, which are generally minor.
Type two double eagles are often called Liberty Head double eagles ‘With Motto’ and Type three double eagles are sometimes called ‘With Dollars’, as the word ‘dollars’ was spelled out on the reverse (back) beginning in 1877. On type one and type two double eagles, dollars is abbreviated with just the letter ‘D’ and a period.
Mints, Availability & Values
Regular issue Philadelphia Mint and San Francisco Mint type two double eagles are frequently offered by coin dealers. While many type one and type three double eagles were minted in New Orleans, zero type two double eagles were struck there.
The U.S. Branch Mint in Carson City, Nevada, began operations in 1870 and CC type two double eagles tend to be far scarcer than their Philadelphia and San Francisco counterparts. Indeed, the 1870-CC is extremely rare.
A few thousand 1876-CC double eagles survive. An 1876-CC may be an effective selection for a collector who seeks one Carson City type two double eagle for some kind of enhanced or specialized type set.
An enhanced type set of Liberty Head double eagles that includes representatives of all mints that struck each respective type would require just 10 coins. Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco type one double eagles would be needed along with Philadelphia, San Francisco and Carson City Mint type two double eagles. Five Mints struck type three double eagles: those located in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Carson City, New Orleans and Denver.
Except for the first four Carson City dates, a complete set of PCGS- or NGC-graded EF-40 or higher, type two double eagles may be completed while spending less than $3,500 per coin, often less than $2,500: 1866, 1866-S, 1867, 1867-S, 1868, 1868-S, 1869, 1869-S, 1870, 1870-S, 1871, 1871-S, 1872, 1872-S, 1873 ‘Open 3’ and ‘Close 3,’ 1873-S ‘Open 3’ and ‘Close 3,’ 1874, 1874-CC, 1874-S, 1875, 1875-CC,1875-S, 1876, 1876-CC, and 1876-S.
Regarding a few types of U.S. coins minted in 1873, two different varieties of a numeral ‘3’ were employed. On one, the knobs are spaced much closer together than the knobs are on the other.
Some members of the general public had mistakenly thought that ‘Close 3’ 1873 coins were dated ‘1878’; they confused the ‘Close 3’ with an ‘8’! They thus thought that ‘Close 3’ 1873 coins were counterfeits or errors, as 1878-dated coins would not have been minted during or before 1873. So, ‘Open 3’ 1873 coins succeeded ‘Close 3’ 1873 coins.
As far as I know, all surviving 1873-CC double eagles have a ‘Close 3’! For less than $3,500 per coin, collectors may acquire PCGS- or NGC-graded representatives of both numeral ‘3’ varieties of 1873 Philly and 1873 San Francisco Mint double eagles, a total of four coins.
Varieties of type two double eagles do not generally command premiums, and there are just those four rare CC dates in circulated grades. The rest of of the dates of this design type have similar market values in grades from VF-30 to AU-55 or so.
Public sales of a few dates are mentioned to provide an idea of market values and availability. More so than most other series of classic U.S. coins, Liberty Head double eagles are handled by telemarketing firms and, to a lesser extent, appear at auction. Also, it is important to not draw firm conclusions about a coin by way of examining published images.
Cameras and imaging equipment vary and there are important aspects of coins that are not apparent in any images. I am citing coins herein that I have not seen in actuality. I am not here recommending any specific coins. Nevertheless, citing some applicable auction records and Internet sales provides an idea of the costs involved in collecting type two double eagles that grade from VF-30 to AU-55.
In August 2016, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-55 1867, with a sticker of approval from CAC, for $2,820 and an NGC-graded AU-53 1867 for $1,997.50. In September 2017, the Goldbergs auctioned a PCGS-graded VF-35 1867-S for $1,316, a PCGS-graded EF-40 1867-S for $1,363, and a PCGS-graded EF-45 1867-S for $1,469.
Double eagles of the year 1874 are appropriate examples to illustrate the point that it is not difficult to collect type two double eagles at a low cost in the context of scarce classic U.S. coins. In February 2016, the firm of GreatCollections sold an NGC-graded AU-50 1874 for $1,375. On April 16, 2017, an NGC-graded AU-58 1874-S brought $1,381.60, and a PCGS-graded AU-53 1874-S realized $1,388.20.
In June 2017, Stack’s-Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-40 1874-CC, with a sticker of approval from CAC, for $3,525, perhaps a good deal. Also during June 2016, GreatCollections sold an NGC-graded EF-40 1874-CC for $3,108.98. Later, on October 23, 2016, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded VF-30 1874-CC for $2,448.60.
In August 2017, Stack’s-Bowers sold a PCGS-graded EF-40 1875-CC for $2,760. GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded VF-35 1875-CC for $2,535.50 in July, and an NGC-graded VF-35 1875-CC, with a CAC sticker, for $3,015.10 in May.
Though a little less scarce, the 1876-CC has around the same value as the 1874-CC in regard to coins that grade from VF-25 to EF-45. It is easy to find an 1876-CC. The first four CC dates are elusive and very expensive.
Key and Semi-Keys
The 1870-CC is the key date in the series of type two double eagles. The 1871-CC, the 1872-CC and the 1873-CC are semi-keys.
A collector with limited wealth or with a tight budget probably should just forget about acquiring an 1870-CC. Besides, most of the survivors are ‘banged up’!
There may be a need for many collectors to ignore the 1871-CC as well. Most survivors cost more than $30,000. In April 2014, however, GreatCollections sold an 1871-CC that was in a NGC ‘Details’ holder with the notation that it had been ‘improperly cleaned.’ It was said to have the level of detail that experts would associate with an Extremely Fine grade. Given the rarity of this issue, the $7,572.40 result was reasonable.
Probably, fewer than 250 1871-CC double eagles survive. There are a substantial number around that would not qualify for numerical grades in accordance with PCGS or NGC practices.
The 1872-CC is not nearly as scarce as the 1871-CC. The PCGS CoinFacts estimate of “402” survivors may be too low. A combination of data from PCGS and NGC indicates that more than 700 1872-CC double eagles have been graded, and at least 375 of these are likely be different coins, maybe even more than 450! For these, ‘crack-out’ artists would certainly have a strong motive to return the printed labels (‘inserts’).
‘Crack-out artists’ are wholesalers who continually re-submit coins after removing them from their respective PCGS or NGC holders. They aim to ‘get’ coins to receive grades that are higher than the respective grades that have been previously assigned to the same coins.
Also, there are quite a few non-gradable 1872-CC double eagles around, not all of which have been submitted to PCGS or NGC. The 1872-CC is almost rare. There are probably 510 to 560 in existence in the present.
In March 2016, Heritage auctioned an NGC-graded EF-40 1872-CC for $8,812.50. In April 2014, GreatCollections sold a PCGS-graded EF-40 1872-CC for $9,476.60. This was in a PCGS holder from the 1990s.
The 1873-CC is scarcer than the 1872-CC. Indeed, The 1873-CC is probably rare in that fewer than 500 survive.
In March 2016, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-40 1873-CC for $7,050. Two years earlier, Heritage auctioned an 1873-CC for $5,875. It is in a PCGS ‘Genuine’ holder with a notation that it has the ‘details’ of an Extremely Fine grade coin.
A substantial percentage of Liberty Head double eagles have problems. Designated non-gradable coins are sometimes better values than some that have received numerical grades from PCGS or NGC. A coin that was found to be non-gradable in the past may have later received a numerical grade from the same service that had earlier concluded it was non-gradable.
Generally, collectors of circulated double eagles are less concerned about the physical characteristics than collectors of most other series of classic U.S. coins. Collectors of these tend to be very interested in history.
Most Liberty Head double eagles have been subjected to medium to heavy cleanings or deliberate smoothings at one time or another. Hairlines from cleanings are a negative factor, though minor hairlines are generally expected and tolerable.
More so than survivors of any other U.S. coin issue, Liberty Head double eagles tend to appear beaten or even brutalized. It is not unusual for a Liberty Head double eagle to be characterized by a large number of medium to large contact marks along with innumerable hairlines and a few medium scratches. One of the reasons why VF-30 to EF-40 grade coins are better values than those that are said to grade from AU-55 to MS-62 is that some of the contact marks, especially bag marks, are mitigated by wear.
Relatively large hits and gashes on a gold coin when it was uncirculated or nearly so often became less noticeable if the coin circulates for a few years. Double eagles frequently banged against each other before reaching circulation, due to minting and distribution processes.
It is not unusual for coin doctors to employ various techniques to make contact marks and other imperfections less noticeable. In many cases, coin doctors add putty, paste, film, grease, powder, oil or other substances. Coin doctoring is less of an issue with circulated double eagles than it is with uncirculated double eagles.
If a gold coin has the details of an Extremely Fine grade coin, coin doctors usually do not attempt to add detail. They tend to add stuff to cover imperfections and such stuff often can be removed without significantly harming the coin. Besides, coin doctors typically have more to gain, in a financial sense, by doctoring gold coins that grade from 58 to 64 than by doctoring those that grade below 58.
There is much to gain, in a financial sense, by doctoring a scarce U.S. coin that was fairly graded as MS-62 with the idea of later fooling experts into thinking that it merits a grade of MS-64 or MS-65! Even so, quite a few circulated double eagles have been doctored.
While collectors should not expect to become experts, they should discuss coins with experts and learn to avoid most doctored coins. If a doctored coin is to be purchased, collectors should understand the risks involved and should think about the severity of the doctoring that has occurred. Minor instances of doctoring are less of a concern than severe doctoring.
Does it sometimes make sense to purchase a PCGS-graded EF-45 double eagle that might have been doctored for $2,000 rather than a relatively more original PCGS-graded EF-45 coin of the same date for $3,000? Would the buyer be sure that the $3,000 coin has not also been doctored? There are not easy answers to these questions. Collectors should study coins, proceed slowly, ask questions, seek explanations and learn over time.
Given that Extremely Fine grade type two double eagles are very inexpensive in the context of pre-1880 U.S. gold coins, coin buyers have little downside risk. Collectors of circulated type two double eagles should relax and have fun. For collectors who are very interested in history and who enjoy building sets, circulated type two double eagles are good values in the current market environment.
© 2017 Greg Reynolds
NGC-Certified Liberty Head Double Eagle Gold Coins Currently Available on eBay