Coin Rarities & Related Topics: News and Analysis regarding scarce coins, coin markets, and the coin collecting community #238
A Weekly CoinWeek Column by Greg Reynolds….
Liberty Eagles were minted from 1838 to 1907. These are sometimes termed ‘Liberty Head Eagles.’ Similar, Liberty Head Quarter Eagles ($2½) and Half Eagles ($5 gold coins) were minted during the same era. Liberty Head Double Eagles, which were first minted in 1850, are not similar in design to Liberty Head Eagles. ‘No Motto’ Liberty Eagles date from 1839 to 1866. Many are rare and most are available for less than $5000 each. Indeed, there are true gold rarities dating from before the U.S. Civil War that retail for less than $2000 each.
I. What Are ‘No Motto’ Eagles?
United States ten dollar gold coins are called Eagles. These should not be confused with U.S. ‘American Eagle’ gold bullion items that have the legal status of coins, though are not regarded as coins by sophisticated collectors.
Such bullion items have been issued since 1986. True Eagles were minted from 1795 to 1933, though not in every year along the way. Also, true Eagles are different from commemorative U.S. $10 gold pieces, which were minted in 1984 and 2003. Gold and platinum bimetallic $10 pieces that were issued in 2000 are commemorative items as well.
Bust Eagles were minted from 1795 to 1804. Eagles were not minted between 1804 and 1838, except for Proof ‘1804’ Eagles that were struck for inclusion in ‘1834’ Proof Sets. U.S. Mint officials then mis-interpreted prevailing laws and strangely concluded that Eagles and silver dollars in 1834 Proof Sets must be dated ‘1804’.
Before ‘No Motto’ type Eagles were struck, Eagles of a slightly different type were minted earlier in 1839 and in 1838. Although these are conceptually ‘No Motto’ Eagles, these 1838 and 1839 coins are best termed Gobrecht Eagles, though are often called “Type One Liberty Eagles,” Liberty Eagles with a “covered ear,” or ‘Head of 1838’ type coins.
Those Eagles of this 1838-39 ‘Head of 1838’ type tend to cost more than $5000 each and are intensely demanded for type sets. An 1839 Gobrecht Eagle, which could be called ‘Head of 1838’ or “1839/8,” though, can be found for less than $5000, within four years, maybe within a few weeks if the buyer is willing to accept a coin with substantial problems.
‘No Motto’ Liberty Eagles date from 1839 to 1866 and ‘With Motto’ Liberty Eagles date from 1866 to 1907. In 1864, “In God We Trust” first appeared on a U.S. coin, the Two Cent piece, which was struck from 1864 to 1873. In 1866, it appeared on the first type of five cent nickels.
Also during 1866, this motto, “In God We Trust,” was added to the reverse (back) design of quarters, half dollars, silver dollars, Half Eagles ($5 gold coins), Eagles and Double Eagles. For ‘No Motto’ Eagles and ‘With Motto’ Eagles, the obverse (front) design is the same.
As there are so many issues of ‘No Motto’ Liberty Eagles, finding type coins is very easy. A collector assembling a type set of U.S. gold coins overall, of just Eagles, of Liberty (Head) gold issues, or of 19th century U.S. coins, needs just one ‘No Motto’ Liberty Eagle. A ‘With Motto’ Eagle (1866-1907) is even easier to obtain than a ‘No Motto’ Liberty Eagle. With the exceptions of some Carson City (Nevada) Mint issues, Liberty Eagles minted after 1883 are readily available.
As obtaining just one ‘No Motto’ Eagle is so easy, it would make sense for a collector to buy a rare date, rather than one that is just scarce. Moreover, a neat idea for a newcomer to rare coins or for someone who is just starting to collect 19th century gold coins, may be to acquire group of three coins that represent all of the mints that struck ‘No Motto’ Liberty Eagles, in Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Francisco.
While this task would not be extremely challenging, it would be more fun than just obtaining one ‘No Motto’ Eagle. For less than $5000 each, all three coins acquired for such a set, involving three mints, could be true rarities.
The primary U.S. Mint has always been in Philadelphia, since U.S. coins were first struck in 1793. Before 1942, it was never firmly planned for Philadelphia Mint coins to have mintmarks. An ‘O’ mintmark refers to the U.S. Branch Mint in New Orleans, which was founded in 1838. Apparently, Liberty Eagles were first struck in New Orleans in 1841.
An ‘S’ mintmark indicates that a coin was produced at the U.S. Mint in San Francisco, which began operations in 1854. ‘No Motto’ Eagles were struck in San Francisco every year from 1854 to 1866. Most such ‘S’ Mint issues are extremely rare.
A coin is rare if less than 500 are known, including all varieties. A coin is very rare if fewer than 250 are known and is extremely rare if less than 100 are around in the present. If fewer than twenty-five are known, then a coin may be a Great Rarity.
One of the appealing aspects of ‘No Motto’ Liberty Eagles is that collectors may obtain many rare coins for $800 to $5000 each. I am not referring to condition rarities, coins that are rare above a modest grade-level. Many modestly priced, ‘No Motto’ Eagles are rare in all grades.
II. Philadelphia Mint Eagles
It is not practical to list all Philadelphia Mint, ‘No Motto’ Eagles here. So, rarity and market prices for a few dates are discussed to demonstrate the practicality of acquiring such rare gold coins for less than $2000 each!
The 1840 Eagle is rare. PCGS and NGC together report grading a total of a little more than 260 1840 Eagles, of which fewer than two hundred are different coins.
There are probably another sixty to eighty that are non-gradable and/or have never been submitted to PCGS or NGC. There could not be as many as 300 in total, perhaps fewer than 250. So, this is a truly rare coin that could be very rare.
Finding an 1840 Eagle for less than $5000 cannot be difficult. Over the past five years, at least five PCGS or NGC graded “EF-45” 1840 Eagles have been auctioned from prices ranging from $1150 to $1750 or so. In April 2013, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded AU-50 coin for $1410. In Jan. 2014, an NGC graded AU-55 1840 brought $2368.80.
I am not commenting on the numerical grades or overall quality of any of the coins mentioned in this discussion, almost all of which I have never seen. Indeed, specific coins are not being endorsed or criticized here.
Collectors are advised to contract with an expert to view coins of interest and identify the extent to which coins have been worn, scratched, dipped and/or cleaned. Some may have been doctored as well. In my experience, though, ‘No Motto’ gold coins that are certified as grading from VF-25 to EF-45 are often very much original. Most of those that have been certified as grading from AU-50 to MS-63 have been dipped and/or unfortunately modified in other ways.
‘Mint State’ grade ‘No Motto’ Eagles are so rare that buyers seeking them may not have the option of being selective as to originality and surface quality. PCGS or NGC graded, circulated ‘No Motto’ Eagles are often better values for collectors than those that have been assigned ‘MS’ grades.
Although the population totals for the 1841 are higher than such totals for the 1840 ‘No Motto’ Eagle, I hypothesize that the 1841 is rarer. For these, many of the grading submissions are of those that are certified as grading ‘EF-40’ or ‘EF-45.’ A large percentage of such totals are re-submissions of some of the same coins. There are not dozens of Extremely Fine grade 1841 Eagles in existence.
Indeed, the 1841 Eagle is very rare; fewer than 250 survive, probably not as many as 220! In March 2012, Heritage auctioned a PCGS graded ‘EF-40’ 1841 for $1150. Despite the ‘population’ report that PCGS had graded thirty one 1841 Eagles as ‘EF-40,’ this is the first PCGS graded ‘EF-40’ 1841 to have been auctioned in many years. Even an NGC graded ‘EF-40’ 1841 has not been auctioned since 2011, when one sold for this same price, $1150.
Those 1841 Eagles that are certified as grading “EF-45” are elusive, too. For less than $1500, a collector may be able to acquire an 1841 Eagle that is PCGS or NGC graded as “AU-50,” though some waiting may be required. For a type set, however, there is not a need for an 1840 or an 1841. There are many Philadelphia Mint issues in the 1840s, 1850s and early 1860s.
An 1847 would be among the easiest dates to acquire. An 1847 is beside the point of the current theme, however, as 1847 Eagles are not rare. There are 750 to 1000 in existence, possibly even more than 1000. In contrast, there are quite a few truly rare Philadelphia Mint, ‘No Motto’ Eagles that may be purchased for less than $1500 each.
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