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HomeCollecting StrategiesUS Gold Coins Under $5,000 - 1840s Liberty Head Quarter Eagles

US Gold Coins Under $5,000 – 1840s Liberty Head Quarter Eagles

1840s US Gold Quarter Eagles

News and Analysis regarding coins,  markets, and the collecting community #322


By Greg Reynolds for CoinWeek …..

Liberty Head quarter eagles (U.S. $2½ gold coins) were minted from 1840 to 1907. It is practical and logical to limit this discussion to those from the 1840s. During the first decade of this type, quarter eagles were struck in Philadelphia (PA), New Orleans (LA), Charlotte (NC) and Dahlonega (GA). A set of regular issue, business strike, quarter eagles from the 1840s can be completed for less than $5,000 USD each, with many appealing coins.

1840s Liberty Head Quarter Eagles As coins from the Civil War-era tend to be popular with history-minded collectors and post-1865 quarter eagles are often demanded by collectors of ‘With Motto’ half eagles or eagles ($10 gold coins), quarter eagles from the 1840s really have not received much attention. These are true gold coins from the first half of the 19th century that are interesting and relatively inexpensive.

Also, the famous and expensive business strike rarities of this design type, like the 1854-S and the 1856-D, came later.

For collectors who appreciate rarity more so than quality, quarter eagles from the 1840s are excellent values from a logical perspective. With a $5,000-per-coin limit, Liberty Head quarter eagles are not a series for connoisseurs or those who frequently examine coins under very high magnification. These are for collectors who enjoy building sets, are geared towards the traditions of coin collecting, and appreciate the roles that coins played in commerce.

1840s Liberty Head Quarter EaglesAuction results are cited herein to provide ideas regarding market levels for the coins being discussed. There is not an endorsement of specific coins auctioned, most of which I have never seen. I am not suggesting that I am in agreement with specific grades assigned by PCGS or NGC in regard to auction results mentioned.

As some pre-1880 gold coins have been accidentally scratched, harmfully cleaned or doctored, including some that have been mistakenly graded, it is particularly important for collectors to consult experts regarding individual coins. It is very difficult for graders to detect putty and similar additives soon after such doctoring occurs, though added substances often become much more unsightly as years pass. (Words in blue may be clicked to access past articles.)

Even so, a significant portion of PCGS- or NGC-graded, Very Fine-20 to EF-45 grade, Liberty Head gold coins are relatively original. Some are incredibly original. It is still very much practical to collect 19th-century gold coins that score high in the category of originality.

Collectors should not feel required to pursue relatively original coins. A purpose here is to provide information and advice so that collectors may make informed decisions in accordance with their own respective values and preferences. For example, some collectors would rather pay $2,500 for a coin that has been moderately cleaned and notably dipped, than $3,000 for a very much original, otherwise equivalent coin with the same assigned grade from the same service.

Philadelphia Mint

For the first issue of the design type, 1840, PCGS and NGC together have graded fewer than 150 different coins. Another thirty to fifty have been found to be non-gradable or have never been submitted to PCGS or NGC. So, there are probably less than 200 in existence.

1840s Liberty Head Quarter EaglesIn February 2016, a PCGS-graded VF-35 1840 was auctioned for less than $2,000. Last June, the same auction firm sold a PCGS-graded VF-30 1840 for less than $1,000, about half as much! In October 2014, a PCGS-graded AU-53 1840 brought $1,776.60, around $200 less than the already mentioned PCGS-graded VF-35 1840 brought in February 2016. Market levels for 1840 quarter eagles have not risen in years. (Please see the article on ‘What Are Auction Prices?’)

As was explained in a three-part series, the 1841 is extremely likely to be a Proof-only issue. A collector with a $5,000 per coin maximum cannot acquire an 1841 in any case.

The 1842 is extremely rare. PCGS and NGC have graded around 50, a total which amounts to around 40 different coins, if that many. Perhaps another 20-30 are known, including some that have never been submitted to PCGS or NGC. I hypothesize that there are 55 to seventy 1842 quarter eagles in existence.

Admittedly, someone at Heritage put forth a similar estimate. “Only fifty to sixty examples are estimated to survive,” a cataloguer said, “extremely rare in any condition!” In November 2014, the Eric Newman 1842, which was NGC-graded EF-40, realized $3,818.75.

Although experts behind PCGS CoinFacts estimate that “125” 1843 quarter eagles ‘survive,’ I suggest at least 200 are around, including clearly non-gradable coins, perhaps 220 or so in total. These are not very difficult to find.

47A PCGS- or NGC-graded MS-62 1843 would be likely to be priced below $5,000 in the current market environment. PCGS- or NGC-graded AU-58 1843 quarter eagles have been selling for less than $1,000 each at auction, though some of these are awful. In August 2012, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-53 1843 for $734.38.

There are probably around ninety 1844 quarter eagles in existence. An AU-55 grade 1844 would be likely to retail for less than $4,000 if offered in the near future.

In February 2014, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-53 1844, with a CAC sticker, for $4,112.50, a very strong price. The combination of this coin being from a private collection, having noteworthy surface quality, appealing color and a CAC sticker, probably propelled bidding action. Generally, during the past few years, a PCGS- or NGC-graded AU-53 grade 1844 quarter eagle would not have been expected to realize as much $2,750 at auction.

The 1845 is not one of the rarer dates of the decade. Circulated 1845 coins are probably the least costly quarter eagles of the 1840s.

The 1846 and the 1847 are each very rare, less than 250 of each are known, perhaps much less. For both dates, circulated coins are available for prices ranging from $500 to $2100.

48On some Philadelphia Mint 1848 quarter eagles, the letters ‘CAL.,’ indicating California gold, were stamped on the reverse. While fascinating, these may not be regular issue U.S. coins; they were countermarked and set aside for some political purpose. In my view, one is not needed for a set of regular issues.

Regular 1848 quarter eagles are far rarer than most experts realize, and are not very expensive. AU-50 to -55 grade, regular 1848 quarter eagles tend to retail from between $2,000 and $3,000.

Probably fewer than 180 1849 quarter eagles survive, a large portion of which are non-gradable.

The NGC census for this issue includes many multiple counts of some of the same coins. A relevant point is that PCGS reports grading four as AU-58 and NGC reports 43 as grading AU-58 – more than 10 times as many!

A PCGS- or NGC-graded MS-62 1849 could be purchased for less than $5,000 if one becomes available in the near future. A certified AU-55 grade 1849 for less than $1,300 might be a good deal.

New Orleans Mint

Collecting Branch U.S. Mint Liberty Head quarter eagles is harder than collecting the Philadelphia Mint dates, mostly because there is more demand. There are many collectors who are extremely fond of southern gold. They tend to be more enthusiastic about the Charlotte and Dahlonega coins, however, than the New Orleans Mint coins, which could be better values from a logical perspective.

In January 2016, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-45 1840-O for $1,527.50. There are no 1841-O, 1844-O, 1848-O or 1849-O quarter eagles, as far as I know.

omintOn June 22, 2014, the firm of “GreatCollections” sold a PCGS-graded EF-45 1842-O for $1,320. The 1843-O ‘Large Date’ is much rarer than the 1843-O ‘Small Date.’ As the distinctions in the numerals in the year, which is sometimes called ‘the date,’ are major and readily apparent without magnification, the 1843-O ‘Large Date’ and the 1843-O ‘Small Date’ are two distinct dates of the same design type, year and mint location.

Fewer than 220 1843-O ‘Large Date’ quarter eagles exist. In January 2016, Heritage auctioned an NGC-graded AU-55 1843-O ‘Large Date’ for $3,525.

In December 2013, the Donald Bently 1843-O ‘Large Date’ brought $998.75. This Bently Collection coin was NGC-graded as EF-45

The 1843-O ‘Small Date’ is one of the least scarce quarter eagles of the 1840s. More than 600 survive. One with a certified ‘Mint State’ grade could easily be found for less than $3,000, though it might not be an excellent coin. A PCGS- or NGC-graded AU-55 1843-O ‘Small Date’ would be likely to retail for an amount between $600 and $800. It might be more satisfying to pay $800 for a relatively original coin rather than $600 for a coin that has been chemically transformed.

The 1845-O quarter eagle is an extremely rare coin, fewer than 100 are known. Nevertheless, is hardly ever a topic of conversation. A PCGS- or NGC-graded EF-40 or -45 1845-O might retail for an amount between $3,000 and $4,000.

The 1846-O is not nearly as rare as the 1845-O, though is very rare. A PCGS- or NGC-graded AU-55 1846-O would be likely to sell at auction for between $1,000 and $2,000 if offered in the near future. In May 2014, a PCGS-graded AU-58 1846-O, with a CAC sticker, realized $3,055 in a Legend Auction.

There are more than 300 1847-O quarter eagles in existence and purchasing one for a modest price is not a challenge. In February 2015, Stack’s Bowers auctioned an NGC-graded AU-50 1847-O, with a CAC sticker, for $881.25.

Charlotte Mint (North Carolina)

The Charlotte and Dahlonega mints were established in 1838 and were closed by Confederate forces in 1861. Relatively original ‘C’ and D-Mint coins tend to be worth more than others with the same certified grades.

cmintA PCGS-graded AU-50 to -53 1840-C would probably retail for an amount between $4,000 and $5,000, depending upon the characteristics of the individual coin. A PCGS- or NGC-graded EF-45 1840-C might retail for $3,000 to $3,500. The Goldbergs, however, auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-40 coin for $3,408 in September 2015, a very strong price.

As for the 1841-C, an EF-40 grade coin would probably retail for around $2,500, an EF-45 1841-C for $3,000, and an AU-50 grade 1841-C for $3,500. My guide values here are approximate and meant to serve an educational purpose. Market values of various coins of the same type and date should be and often are largely a function of their respective physical characteristics, rather than being primarily a function of third-party certifications, which are often questionable and are subject to change anyway.

As the striking detail and surface quality of 1842-C quarter eagles varies dramatically, one PCGS-graded EF-45 1842-C could be worth much more than another PCGS-graded EF-45 1842-C. For $2,500 to $,5000, 1842-C coins that are PCGS- or NGC-certified from EF-40 to AU-50 have become available at least twice a year since 2011.

A PCGS- or NGC-graded 1843-C ‘Small Date’ in the range of VF-20 to EF-40 could be found for less than $5,000. The 1843-C ‘Large Date’ is not nearly as rare as the ‘Small Date.’ In October 2014, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-50 1843-C ‘Large Date’ for $3,184.25.

It is particularly difficult to estimate the values of 1844-C and 1846-C quarter eagles. In Extremely Fine-40 to -45 grades, these could trade for prices from $1,900 to $4,900. There are no 1845-C quarter eagles.

The 1847-C is the least scarce of all Charlotte Mint quarter eagles and thus a popular choice for collectors who seek just one Charlotte quarter eagle for some kind of a type set or as a novelty item. A PCGS- or NGC-graded 1847-C in the AU-50 to -58 range could be easily acquired for significantly less than $5,000.

Although 1848-C coins are rarer than 1847-C quarter eagles, these are around. An AU-50 or better grade 1848-C could be found for less than $5,000 and an Extremely Fine-40 or -45 grade 1848-C could surely be obtained for less than $2,500.

The 1849-C is very rare, though not extremely rare. There must be at least 130 survivors, maybe as many as 155.

Dahlonega Mint (Georgia)

The Dahlonega Mint is a topic in two previous discussions, one on the Southern Gold Rush and the other on the 1861-D half eagle. It is not practical to discuss the history of this mint here.

dmintThe 1840-D is an extremely rare coin. Although PCGS and NGC together report that 94 have been graded, this total could not amount to as many as 50 different coins, maybe fewer than 40. Auction appearances are infrequent and some of those auctioned are clearly non-gradable.

The PCGS CoinFacts estimate of sixty-five survivors is fair, though could very well be too high.

A certified Very Fine-20 to -35 grade 1840-D or a non-gradable 1840-D with AU-level detail could be acquired for less than $5,000. In February 2014, Heritage auctioned an NGC-graded VF-35 1840-D for $4,700, though it is not clear from images whether that coin should have received a numerical grade.

The Bently 1840-D may have been a really good deal. It had been mounted for decorative purposes and may have additional problems. Even so, experts at NGC fairly indicate that it has the ‘details’ of AU grade coin. In February 2014, it brought just $1,645. In September 2013, Heritage auctioned another NGC-certified “AU DETAILS” 1840-D for $3,290. A true AU-50 grade 1840-D would be worth from $7,000 to $12,000.

While not as rare as the 1840-D, the 1841-D and the 1842-D are each very rare and have similar market values. Gradable representatives can be found for $1,500 to $4,500 each.

In June 2015, the Goldbergs auctioned an NGC-graded VF-20 1842-D for $2,056. A year earlier, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-45 1842-D for $4,112.50.

There are 1843 ‘Small D’ and 1842 ‘Large D’ varieties. The difference is slight. A budget-minded collector should just acquire an 1843-‘Small D.’ An AU-50 to -55 grade 1843-‘Small D’ would probably sell for an amount between $1,500 and $3,750.

The 1844-D, 1845-D, 1846-D, 1847-D and 1848-D all have similar market values, more or less. The 1846 variety with a re-punched ‘D’ mintmark is worth a modest premium.

AU-50 to -55-grade coins of these dates may cost anywhere between $2,250 and $4,600, depending upon precise grade, surface quality, strike, venue, timing, and other factors. It would be a mistake to ‘shop around’ for the lowest price for each date in a particular grade range. A ‘price-shopper’ for pre-1880 gold will often form a collection with many discomforting coins.

In August 2015, Stack’s Bowers auctioned a PCGS-graded AU-58 1846-D for $4,700. From the same “Georgia Peach Collection” in the same auction, a PCGS-graded AU-58 1847-D brought $4,993.75.

The published PCGS and NGC grading data for the 1849-D seems to have been inflated by repeat submissions of the some of the same coins, especially in the AU-53 to AU-58 grade range. Auction appearances of 1849-D quarter eagles, in contrast, are seldom, and researchers in the past have regarded the 1849-D as one of the four rarest of all the Dahlonega Mint quarter eagles from the 1840s. Its level of rarity is not clear now and the 1849-D does not seem to command all that much of a premium.

In January 2015, Heritage auctioned an NGC-graded AU-53 1849-D for $3,290. A year earlier, at the January 2014 FUN Convention, a different 1849-D with the same certification realized $3,525. In February 2014, Heritage auctioned a PCGS-graded EF-40 1849-D for $2,250.

Concluding Remarks

It would be exciting to build a set of all regular issue, quarter eagles from the 1840s, including coins from four U.S. Mint locations. The 1848 ‘CAL.’ issue is presumed to be a commemorative and is not a requirement for such a set. Surely, this project can be completed in two to six years, without spending more than $5,000 per coin, unless market levels rise substantially.

As for the quality of the coins that can be practically included, it would make sense to accept the reality that some will have substantial problems. Certainly, for less than $5,000 each, more than a few that score high in the category of originality may be included.

Such a set could be an objective by itself or could be the beginning of a comprehensive collection of this series. The Liberty Head quarter eagle design type was essentially unchanged from 1840 to 1907! Only a small number of issues would need to be excluded by a collector with a $5,000 per coin limit. Indeed, a near-complete set of around 68 years of Liberty Head quarter eagles is practical.

* * *

Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds
Greg Reynolds has carefully examined a majority of the greatest U.S. coins and most of the finest classic U.S. type coins. He personally attended sales of the Eliasberg, Pittman, Newman, and Gardner Collections, among other landmark events. Greg has also covered major auctions of world coins, including the sale of the Millennia Collection. In addition to more than four hundred analytical columns for CoinWeek and at least 50 articles for CoinLink, Reynolds has contributed hundreds of articles to Numismatic News newspaper and related publications. Greg is also a multi-year winner of the ‘Best All-Around Portfolio’ award from the NLG, as well as awards for individual articles, a series of articles on the Eric Newman Collection, and for best column published on a web site.

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