The 1868-S double eagle has an undistinguished mintage of 837,500 pieces, and circulated examples can be found with little difficulty. The problem arises when an attractive Mint State coin is needed for a type or date/mintmark collection.
This condition difficulty is explained by two major factors in the post-Civil War United States economy.
First, gold and silver coins were widely used in the western states. Naturally, when coins are used in the channels of commerce it removes top-grade examples from the realm of collectability for many in the numismatic community.
Second, and undoubtedly a more significant factor, is the increasing use of the double eagle as a gold reserve for both newly formed national banks as well as shipment overseas for trade purposes. It was this use as a gold reserve that explains why mintages for $20 gold pieces continued to be solid even at a time when other silver and gold issues saw little or no production. This strong production from year-to-year and in all mints continued throughout the Type Two series from 1866 through 1876.
Within the Type Two series, the 1868-S is only considered 22nd of the 31 date and mintmark combinations that were issued. However, because of the shipment of these pieces and subsequent heavy abrasions seen on most examples, higher-grade collector pieces were all but rendered extinct.
To underscore this, here are the combined populations of coins certified by both major services in Uncirculated condition: MS60 (38); MS61 (52); MS62 (13); MS63 (0); MS64 (1). Subtract from those numbers an unknown number of crossovers, and the picture becomes even clearer what a dramatically overlooked issue the 1868-S $20 is in MS62+ condition, such as the PCGS-graded example we are offering in our upcoming April 24-29 Central States Signature Auction. Considerable emphasis should be placed on the Plus designation because this is not an ordinary 1868-S or even a sometimes-available MS62. To reiterate, only a single coin, NGC-graded as MS64, exceeds this piece’s MS62+ grade according to the major grading services combined.
This piece has thick, frosted surfaces with only the slightest luster grazes and smallest abrasions. Strike details are what is expected from the Type Two design, meaning there is central softness evident on Liberty’s hair as well as the peripheral obverse stars. However, the reverse is surprisingly well-defined. This Plus-designated 1868-S is among the finest examples available, and the astute collector will recognize the outstanding opportunity presented here.