By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
I originally published this article in June 2010, and since it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything about San Francisco double eagles, I have revised it as of October 2021. As these coins have become increasingly popular over the course of time (they are actually the most popular gold coins from this mint by a considerable margin), I think this would be an excellent time to begin a series of articles. It is only natural to divide these coins into three groups and this would be as follows:
- Type One: 1854-1866
- Type Two: 1866-1876
- Type Three: 1877-1907
This first article is going to deal with the very popular Type One issues that were produced, as stated above, from 1854 through 1866.
After years of neglect, this historically significant date has finally come into its own.
The survival pattern of the 1854-S is different than for any other SF double eagle. Examples are likely to be found either very well worn (in VF35 to EF45 grades) or in Uncirculated (MS61 to MS63). This is because the issue saw considerable circulation in the booming local Gold Rush economy, and a hoard of 100 or so Uncirculated pieces with seawater surfaces exists. The 1854-S is extremely rare in high grades with natural surfaces. I have only seen two in Uncirculated not from the shipwreck, and just a handful of non-seawater AU pieces. A new price record was set for the date by Heritage 10/2008: 3013, graded MS65 by PCGS, which brought a remarkable $115,000 USD. Despite this, published pricing information for the 1854-S is way too low and a solid AU55 or AU58 with natural surfaces is worth well over current levels.
1854-S $20.00 PCGS AU58 CAC. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)
A decade after this article was originally written, the 1854-S is an issue that has really come into its own. It is now widely recognized as the second scarcest S mint Type One double eagle, and prices have risen accordingly. In 2010, an AU55 was worth around $8,000 to $9,000. Today, an 1854-S double eagle in this grade is valued at around $15,000 to $16,500 for a non-CAC PCGS coin and $20,000 or so for a CAC coin. Examples with non-shipwreck surfaces are seen more often in 2021 than they were in 2010 and this is primarily due to around a dozen or so reasonably nice to very nice EF and AU 1854-S double eagles being located in the Fairmont hoard. There were no Uncirculated coins in this group and the 1854-S remains very rare in Uncirculated with non-shipwreck surfaces. I don’t believe that more than four or five exist as such, with the finest grading MS61 to MS62. A new record price for this issue was set by the PCGS/CAC MS65 Pogue coin, which brought $132,000 in March 2020.
For many collectors, the 1855-S is the earliest date SF double eagle that is added to their collection. This issue remains reasonably available in the lower to medium About Uncirculated grades but it is scarce in Uncirculated and much undervalued in my opinion. I believe that there are as many as 150-200 known in Uncirculated with many of these either in the lower range of this grade or sourced from the SS Central America or SS Republic shipwrecks. As with the other double eagles from this date, the 1855-S is characterized by very heavily abraded surfaces and choice; original pieces are worth a premium.
At less than $3,000 for a pleasing, high-end AU example, I think that the 1855-S remains an outstanding value in the Type One market.
1855-S $20.00 NGC MS62
The 1855-S has become far more available in the lower Uncirculated grades and it is an issue that can be located in MS60 and MS61 without much difficulty. It is scarce in MS62, and rare in properly graded MS63 and higher. The finest known is a remarkable PCGS MS66 that sold for a record-setting $120,750 back in 2000. The “less than $3,000… pleasing, high-end AU example” I mentioned above is even cheaper in 2021 than it was in 2010 with nice non-CAC PCGS AU55 examples sometimes available for as little as $2,750. As I write this, I’m feeling a lot of love for nice MS61 examples of this date, which are sometimes available in the $6,500 to $7,500 range.
The discovery of over 1,000 high-grade examples in the SS Central America treasure has made the 1856-S a common issue and one that is very popular with new Type One collectors. Price levels have increased in recent years for nice Uncirculated 1856-S double eagles and for good reason as these are affordable coins with a great story and fantastic eye appeal. The 1856-S in its original Central America gold foil PCGS holder is harder to find than its counterpart the 1857-S, and the premium for the former is starting to increase. I look for nice MS63 and MS64 examples that show minimal discoloration and remaining encrustation.
1856-S $20.00 PCGS MS63 CAC
The market for the MS63 and MS64 SSCA 1856-S was complicated by the second salvage of coins from this vessel. Collectors now have to select which variation of 1856-S they wish to buy, and what premium is accorded to which variety. In my experience, the coins from the first group are more desirable, and I recommend these to interested collectors as they have been encapsulated for long enough to know if the surfaces have changed due to improper conservation. Prices for MS63 first-generation 1856-S double eagles have stayed fairly consistent in the past decade, with PCGS/CAC coins in original holders currently worth around $15,000. MS64s have actually shown some appreciation, with PCGS/CAC coins worth around $25,000 to $27,500; these sold in 2010 for around $20,000.
The discovery of more than 5,000 high-quality examples on the SS Central America is what really jump-started the market for Type One double eagles. There are hundreds of collectors who started out buying a single Uncirculated 1857-S and then became hooked by the Type One series.
I’ve noted some confusion about proper valuation for these coins.
As an example, there is a CDN Bid of $7,200 for MS64 examples. This bid represents the value of a coin in a gold foil holder with the original box. An NGC MS64, which is clearly a coin that was broken out of a PCGS holder and likely upgraded, is worth less than this; in some cases as much as 10%. As a collector, if you pay a strong retail price for an Uncirculated 1857-S double eagle, try to be patient and wait for a nice quality piece in the original PCGS holder.
1857-S $20.00 PCGS MS65 CAC
I can’t add much to what I wrote 10 years ago about this date. It is interesting to look at very-high-grade SSCA 1857-S double eagles. In 2010 a CAC-approved PCGS MS66 in its original packaging would have cost around $35,000. Today, a similar coin would cost around $30,000. There hasn’t been a ton of PCGS/CAC MS67s that have sold, but the most recent APR was just $96,000 – down considerably from a 2014 auction record of $152,750 and even $120,000 in January 2020. A remarkable $282,000 was paid for a wildly toned PCGS/CAC MS67 in May 2019. In my opinion, this was a huge overpay for a coin that I felt, at the time, was worth around $150,000.
The 1856-S and the 1857-S get all the publicity but the 1858-S is a much scarcer coin and truly rare in Uncirculated grades. I believe that only two to three dozen are known in Uncirculated and I have not seen one better than MS61. The fact that so few nice 1858-S double eagles have sold at auction means that there are no high sales records and, concurrently, that collectors are not aware of the true value of this date in higher grades.
I’d have to rank the 1858-S as one of my favorite issues of this type from San Francisco and I certainly think that it is among the two or three best values. I recently sold a lovely PCGS AU58 for less than $5,000 (cheap!!) and have sold nice AU55 coins for less than $3,000.
1858-S $20.00 PCGS MS62
The rarity of the 1858-S has stayed remarkably consistent with the numbers we saw a decade ago. There are still likely not more than 20-30 known in Uncirculated, with virtually all of them in the MS60 to MS61 range. The PCGS population in MS62 is still just three with two finer (both MS63) and nothing better. In early 2019, a really nice PCGS/CAC sold for $26,400; seven months later, a somewhat ratty non-CAC PCGS MS62 1858-S sold for just $10,800. Properly graded AU55s and AU58s have held their price levels since 2010 and I still believe they are excellent values. I view this date as the best value in the entire Type One San Francisco set.
The 1859-S is less rare than the 1858-S both in terms of overall and high-grade rarity. But it is another date that it is a favorite of mine and I still maintain that nice quality AU55 to AU58 coins at $4,000+ and below are just about the best value that you can find in the Type One market; especially with very common Philadelphia coins from the early 1850s worth around $2,500 to $3,000 in nice AU. The 1859-S is often found with bright, baggy surfaces. The finest known example is a PCGS MS63 (ex Bowers and Merena 3/2004: 3198) that sold for $31,050. I’m not certain if this coin would realize a ton more today but it still seems undervalued in comparison to other finest known Type One issues.
1859-S $20.00 PCGS MS61
In 2012, this date had a PCGS population of 44 in AU55 with 61 finer. In October 2021, these figures have swelled to 72 in AU55 with 108 finer. Despite this fact, the value for a nice non-CAC PCGS AU55 has stayed pretty much the same, with an example being worth around $3,250 today and $3,500 a decade ago. This date has also become more available in Uncirculated due to hoards. In 2014, PCGS had graded 16 in MS61 with 15 finer. In 2021, the number of coins graded MS61 has jumped up to 27 but there are only 16 finer. It should be noted that a number of the new coins graded MS61 and nice sliders with pleasing color. A properly graded MS62 is as nice as you’ll find for the 1859-S – as evidenced by the fact that the PCGS population remains just one coin in MS63 with none finer. This coin (see above) sold for $54,625 in January 2012 after bringing $31,050 in 2004.
Not much has changed with this date since I wrote my book on Type One double eagles in 2002. There are still fewer than 2,000 known in all grades and I have actually downgraded my estimate of known Uncirculated pieces from 25-50 to 20-30. This date remains rare and undervalued in higher grades. Trends in AU55 and AU58 are higher than the 1858-S and 1859-S but it is still reasonable, given the rarity of this issue. PCGS has graded a single example in MS63 and MS64 (neither of which have I seen) and there are just a few known in properly graded MS62. If you collect Type One double eagles in high grades and you see a choice, attractive 1860-S, my advice is to disregard current pricing guides and get aggressive as a considerable amount of time may pass before you get a second chance.
1860-S $20.00 PCGS MS62
This date has been impacted more by repatriated coins than has the 1858-S and the 1859-S. I would place the number of Uncirculated coins currently known in the three to four dozen range, but most of these are MS60 and MS61 pieces. PCGS shows a current population of 11 in MS62 but this number seems swollen by resubmissions as evidenced by the fact that just two have sold at auction since late 2009. In 2010, you would have written a check for around $5,500 for a PCGS AU58. In 2021, a similar coin will cost around $4,000. The PCGS population for this date in AU58 was 34 (with 28 finer) in 2010, while it has ballooned to 70 (with 46 finer) in 2021.
Until 11 Uncirculated examples were found on SS Republic, this date was almost unavailable in Uncirculated. Nevertheless, it remains very rare, with fewer than a dozen known with original surfaces in Mint State. I actually think the 1861-S is every bit as tough as the 1860-S in AU55 to AU58, although it tends to sell for a bit less. This issue is unheralded due to the fame of the Paquet Reverse but it is beginning to come into its own as far as specialists go. Heritage 5/2008: 3579 (graded MS62 by PCGS) is the current record auction price at $25,300. The finest graded is a single PCGS MS63 that I have never personally seen.
1861-S $20.00 PCGS MS62
In 2014, the PCGS population for this date in MS61 was just seven coins with five finer. Today, it is 20 in MS61 with nine finer. This is largely due to a small number of coins being located in Europe, including around a half dozen in the Fairmont hoard. The market has been able to absorb these coins and prices for MS61s have stayed reasonably firm. In 2013, PCGS had graded 35 in AU58 (with 13 finer). Today, the population in AU58 has jumped to 69 with 36 finer. Nice AU58s have dropped from the $6,000 to $7,000 levels to around $4,500 to $5,000. Given the multiple levels of demand this coin has due to its Civil War issuance, I think it’s a good value at current levels. A new price record was set for the 1861-S in January 2012 when an NGC MS63 sold for $37,375.
1861-S Paquet Reverse
As I’ve written before, for years the Paquet double eagle was extremely undervalued. It was an issue that I can remember literally pleading with clients to buy. Yes, it was a bit on the obscure side but it was very rare, historically significant, and impossible to find in higher grades. Not to toot my own horn too loudly but if you listened to me about purchasing a Paquet, we’re both happy right now. The market for this issue peaked around mid-2008 when there were three auction sales within a year for AU58 examples that brought in the $160s. Suddenly, this formerly undervalued issue seemed pricey. Very pricey in fact. It has subsequently diminished in value. But I don’t think this is a long-term projection for the issue. I’ve never seen or heard of an Uncirculated example (and a nice one would bring a huge, huge price if offered today) and have just seen two that I regarded as true AU58s. I would suggest that if you are thinking of buying a Paquet you be extremely selective and hold out for a nice coin with good eye appeal.
1861-S Paquet $20.00 PCGS AU58
There have been remarkably few nice PCGS examples of this date sold at auction since the early 2010s. For AU55s, there are just two APRs: $129,250 in April 2015, and $114,000 in January 2019. For AU58s, the number of coins sold is also just two with a record of $188,000 in June 2014 and $223,250 (an all-time high for this variety) in April 2014. I think there is strong demand for the 1861-S Paquet and it probably doesn’t hurt that the finer of only two known 1861-P Paquet double eagles just brought an amazing $7.2 million at auction. I’m not exactly sure where all the SF Paquets are hiding, but if someone is hoarding them, I think they are sitting on a winner.
This issue has become more available in higher grades due to the presence of some reasonably choice pieces in the SS Republic shipwreck. There are around two to three dozen known in Uncirculated with most in the MS60 to MS61 range. This date remains very rare in properly graded MS62 and there are just two known in MS63 (one each at PCGS and NGC). From a price standpoint, I find the 1862-S a bit overvalued in the higher AU grades when compared to the 1858-S, 1859-S, and 1861-S. Interestingly, this is a date that you never seem to see with the “Euro” look that is seen on some of the earlier S Mint Type One issues. It seems as if few were shipped overseas and the ones that I have seen that have come back from abroad are usually very well worn.
1862-S $20.00 NGC MS61
Virtually all the comments that I made about the 1862-S double eagle in 2010 hold true today except for one: coins with a “Euro” look have hit the market but virtually all of these are lightly circulated. This date is still scarce in Uncirculated and very rare in MS62 with PCGS having graded six at this level and two in MS62+, one in MS63, and one in MS63+. It is interesting to compare population figures for this date in the higher AU grades in 2020 versus in 2015. For AU58 coins, PCGS had graded 52 with 22 finer; the current figures are 72 with 30 finer. For AU55 coins PCGS had graded 34 with 70 finer; the current figures are 62 with 102 finer. Prices have dropped 20-30%+ for this issue in the higher circulated grades but I still think it isn’t as good a value as the 1858-S and the 1859-S.
Since the discovery of SS Republic, the 1863-S is about twice as available in Uncirculated as it was when I wrote my Type One book. I’d venture to estimate that as many as 100 are known in Uncirculated although the majority are shipwreck coins. The Uncirculated pieces in PCGS holders tend to be from SS Brother Jonathan while the NGC coins tend to be from Republic. Of all the S mints from this era, the 1863-S tends to be among the worst struck with a lot of flatness seen on the hair. Conversely, the luster is good and there are some original pieces known that have great color and overall eye appeal. This is a date that I think is a bit tougher in original AU55 and AU58 than most people realize and it seems like pretty good value at current levels.
1863-S $20.00 PCGS MS62 CAC</em
The market premium on this date in lower grades (VF and EF) is now as low as I have ever seen with these coins bringing around 5% to 7% over a very common Type Two such as the 1873 Open 3. The 1863-S is more available in AU grades than it was 10 years ago and prices have dropped accordingly. In MS61, the PCGS population was 14 with 36 finer in early 2011. In September 2021, the population is 42 in MS61 with 27 finer. As a result of this population explosion, MS61 1863-S double eagles have dropped from $11,000 to $12,000 to $5,500 to $6,500. For MS62 coins, the population in 2013 was 13 with seven finer, while in 2021 it is 19 in this grade with eight finer.
Due to this fairly small increase, the price in this grade for non-CAC PCGS coins has stayed pretty consistent with such coins worth around $20,000 today; pretty much the same as they were worth a decade ago. I like the value this issue offers in MS61 and MS62.
This date’s rarity has been notably changed by the SS Republic and Brother Jonathan shipwrecks. I can remember when the 1864-S was just about impossible to find in Uncirculated. In fact, in the late 1980s/early ’90s, I owned a PCGS MS62 that I distinctly remember being far and away the finest 1864-S that I had seen or heard of. This tends to be a poorly produced issue with even less hair detail than seen on the 1862-S and 1863-S runs. Coins with original surfaces tend to be a bit on the grainy side, and if they have natural color tend to be dark and not especially attractive. NGC graded one of the SS Republic coins MS65 and this is likely to remain the highest-graded 1864-S double eagle for many years.
1864-S $20.00 PCGS MS62
The 1864-S is now a common date in grades through AU55. MS60 and MS61s have had their prices significantly reduced due to population increases. In early 2013, PCGS had graded 21 in MS61 with 15 finer. In 2021, these numbers were 35 in MS61 with 18 finer. The 1864-S has remained rare in MS62 and prices have remained fairly consistent. There are still just three MS63s at PCGS with none finer. The single finest known 1864-S double eagle sold in the January 2012 FUN auction, and it set a record for this issue at $115,000.
Just as the 1857-S is now officially known as the “Central America” date in this series, the 1865-S is likely to always be remembered as the “Brother Jonathan” date. There were over 550 found on the Bro Jo. When you combine this number with the 235 found on SS Republic, this adds up to a lot of high-grade 1865-S double eagles. This date has been graded as high as MS66 (the best of which brought $72,450 at auction all the way back in May 1999) and enough have been graded in MS64 and MS65 to make it readily available. I’m not personally a big fan of shipwreck coins (as you probably know, I like coins that have original crusty surfaces), but I think it would be a neat set to have one nice coin from each of the three major Type One shipwrecks.
The 1865-S is the third-most-available San Francisco double eagle in high grades after the 1857-S and the 1856-S, easily located in grades through MS64. It is interesting to note that prices for CAC-approved PCGS MS64 1865-S double eagles have actually risen from 2011 to 2021 as they were worth $20,000 then and $25,000 now. MS65s have also increased in price. How have populations been impacted? In early 2013, PCGS had graded 22 in MS65 with two finer. In late 2021, the MS65 population is actually lower(!) with 21 graded and two finer.
1866-S No Motto
Only 12,000 examples were struck of this issue and it is the second-rarest Type One double eagle from San Francisco, trailing only the 1861-S Paquet.
Yet despite this coin’s rarity, it was hugely undervalued for many years.
This changed dramatically in the early 2000s when Type Ones became avidly collected by date and interest in the rarest issues soared. The price for a nice EF 1866-S double eagle went from around $5,000 to around $25,000. The height of the market for this issue was 2007-2008 when a number of pieces brought over $100,000 at auction. In January 2007, Heritage sold a really nice PCGS AU58 for $195,000, and I’m told that at least one of the coins graded MS60 by NGC traded privately for over $250,000. Those are heady numbers for a coin that most people barely even knew about a decade ago. But I think the future looks good for this issue. It is truly rare in properly graded AU55 and AU58 and excessively rare in Uncirculated with just two or three currently accounted for.
1866-S No Motto $20.00 PCGS AU55 CAC
Prices for this date have, however, dropped in recent years. A nice PCGS EF 45 was worth around $27,500 in 2017, but with a small group of CAC-approved PCGS 45s from the Fairmont hoard selling in 2018, the market dropped around 20%. To me, this is a classic “buy the dip” scenario and I bought most of these coins. In AU53, this date has dropped from $40,000 to $45,000 a decade ago to $35,000 to $40,000 at the time of publication. High-end AUs remain very rare, with no PCGS AU58s sold at auction since May 2009. In Uncirculated, this date is extremely rare with only three or four known; the finest known is a PCGS MS62, which was discovered in the Saddle Ridge hoard. It is my opinion that this date is currently excellent value and while it is expensive, I still regard it as one of the best values in the entire Type One series, regardless of mint.
I think the future looks very bright for San Francisco Type One double eagles. These issues are popular and avidly collected. There are coins available for all price ranges and the fact that many dates have very attractive shipwreck coins available is a great way to introduce this series to new collectors.
A decade after this article was originally written, much has changed in the Type One San Francisco double eagle series. Many issues have lost 25% to 45% of their values from 10 years ago, and it is now possible to acquire nice PCGS AU examples of a number of these dates for under $3,500. I strongly recommend these coins as long as they are original and show minimal abrasions.
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About Doug Winter
Doug has spent much of his life in the field of numismatics; beginning collecting coins at the age of seven, and by the time he was 10 years old, buying and selling coins at conventions in the New York City area.
In 1989, he founded Douglas Winter Numismatics, and his firm specializes in buying and selling choice and rare US Gold coins, especially US gold coins and all branch mint material.
Recognized as one of the leading specialized numismatic firms, Doug is an award-winning author of over a dozen numismatic books and a recognized expert on US Gold. His knowledge and an exceptional eye for properly graded and original coins have made him one of the most respected figures in the numismatic community and a sought-after dealer by collectors and investors looking for professional personalized service, a select inventory of impeccable quality, and fair and honest pricing. Doug is also a major buyer of all US coins and is always looking to purchase collections both large and small. He can be reached at (214) 675-9897.
Doug has been a contributor to the Guidebook of United States Coins (also known as the “Red Book”) since 1983, Walter Breen’s Encyclopedia of United States and Colonial Coins, Q. David Bowers’ Encyclopedia of United States Silver Dollars and Andrew Pollock’s United States Pattern and Related Issues.
In addition, he has authored 13 books on US Gold coins including:
- Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint: 1839-1909
- Gold Coins of the Carson City Mint: 1870 – 1893
- Gold Coins of the Charlotte Mint: 1838-1861
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint 1838-1861
- The United States $3 Gold Pieces 1854-1889
- Carson City Gold Coinage 1870-1893: A Rarity and Condition Census Update
- An Insider’s Guide to Collecting Type One Double Eagles
- The Connoisseur’s Guide to United States Gold Coins
- A Collector’s Guide To Indian Head Quarter Eagles
- The Acadiana Collection of New Orleans Coinage
- Type Three Double Eagles, 1877-1907: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Gold Coins of the Dahlonega Mint, 1838-1861: A Numismatic History and Analysis
- Type Two Double Eagles, 1866-1876: A Numismatic History and Analysis
Finally, Doug is a member of virtually every major numismatic organization, professional trade group and major coin association in the US.