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The Coin Analyst: Extremely Rare 1870-S $3 Gold Coin To Be Auctioned on June 2 in Georgia – Real or Fake?

By Louis Golino for CoinWeek …..
Update: It appears that this item has been removed from the auction

The 1870-S $3.00 gold coin is one of the great rarities of American numismatics. It is/was until recently believed that only one such coin existed and that it was struck to be placed in the cornerstone of the United States Mint building in San Francisco.

But according to a report by Fox News online, an auction company in Alpharetta, Georgia has another specimen of the coin that was apparently discovered embedded in a souvenir book at a bookstore in San Francisco (see image below). It is to be auctioned off on June 2.

Steve White, who is the owner of the Four Seasons Auction Co., says that the coin is one of two or three specimens of this rare gold coin. He estimates that it will sell for up to $4 million.

He also invited interested parties to see the coin in person and according to the Fox story, “bring an independent expert to authenticate the piece.”

The coin has not been graded or authenticated by any of the recognized Third Party Grading services such as PCGS, NGC or ANACS, which is highly unusual for such a rare coin, especially one which is believed to be either unique or one of only two or three such coins.

Editors Note: We have had multiple numismatic experts contact CoinWeek expressing their opinion that while the story is interesting, they do not believe the coin is authentic. Potential bidders would be well advised to seek the guidance of a US Gold expert to examine the coin.

According to PCGS’s Coin Facts web site, the 1870-S coin is unique and was last purchased in October 1982 by dealer, Harry W. Bass, who paid $687,500 for the coin. The Bass coin is on display at the American Numismatic Association’s museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado and is considered to be the centerpiece of that remarkable collection. Many other coins from the Bass collection have been sold, but not the 1870-S $3 gold piece.

That coin was previously owned by the most famous American coin collector of all time, Baltimore, Maryland banker Louis Eliasberg, the only person who has ever assembled a complete collection of every U.S. coin ever issued. The 1982 sale was part of the Bowers and Ruddy auction of Mr. Eliasberg’s amazing collection, which took place over a period of years.

Mr. Eliasberg purchased his coin in 1946 for $11,500 from the Celina Coin Co. in a sale that was brokered by Stack’s, which is now headed by Q. David Bowers.

That coin, which grades extra fine 40, has a pedigree that dates to a 1911 sale from the collection of William H. Woodin, who later served as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. When the Woodin coin was sold, it included a note stating that it was a duplicate of the coin made to be included in the San Francisco mint’s cornerstone.

The coin was at one point used in jewelry and had a suspension loop was added to the top edge of the coin, according to Jeff Garrett, a leading numismatic researcher. It also has the numbers 893 that were scratched on the reverse side of the coin, according to PCGS.

It was later sold by Thomas Elder and owned by Waldo Newcomer. B. Max Mehl, perhaps the most famous coin dealer of the first half of the 20th century, sold the Newcomer collection on a consignment basis.

In spite of the announcement of the sale of the specimen in Georgia it is believed that either one or two such coins existed. PCGS suggests that the Bass coin is the same coin that was struck to be part of the San Francisco Mint’s cornerstone.

But Jeff Garrett in his Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins, 1795-1933 (published in 2008 by Whitman Publishing) says that the cornerstone coin is a second example that is rumored to exist but that it has never been found.

The 1870-S coin is also included in Mr. Garrett’s popular book, The 100 Greatest U.S. Coins (third edition published in 2008 by Whitman Publishing). As Mr. Garrett explains in his book, the coin has an interesting and unusual history. The die for this coin was struck at the Philadelphia mint and the “S” mintmark was later added by hand by coiner J.B. Harmstead. The dies for each of the branch mint coins were made in Philadelphia, and mintmarks for the branch mints were supposed to be added before the coins were sent to the other mints.

Discovered embedded in a souvenir book in SF

However, somehow the San Francisco die for this coin arrived in California without the proper mintmark, which is why it was later added by Mr. Harmstead. The “S” mintmark on the coin is very different from “S” mintmarks which appear on other gold coins of the time, which helps support the idea that it was made by hand.

If the coin that is to be sold in June is indeed authentic and is not the example that was made for the San Francisco mint’s cornerstone, that would seem to suggest that three specimens exist of this coin.

Numismatic researchers and potential buyers will no doubt be eager to determine the origins and authenticity of the Georgia coin.

Mr. Garrett’s book stresses how this particular coin has a rather murky history, which makes claims of the discovery of an apparent third example both intriguing and suspect.


Louis Golino - WriterLouis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.

Louis Golino
Louis Golino
Louis Golino is an award-winning numismatic journalist and writer specializing on modern U.S. and world coins. He has been writing a weekly column for CoinWeek since May 2011 called “The Coin Analyst,” which focuses primarily on modern numismatic issues and developments at major world mints. In August 2015 he received the Numismatic Literary Guild’s (NLG) award for Best Website Column for “The Coin Analyst.” He is also a contributor to Coin World, where he wrote a bimonthly feature and weekly blog, and The Numismatist, the American Numismatic Association’s (ANA) monthly publication, where he writes a monthly column on modern world coins. He is also a founding member of the Modern Coin Forum sponsored by Modern Coin Mart. He previously served as a congressional relations specialist and policy analyst at the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress and as a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international politics and national security for a wide variety of publications. He has been writing professionally since the early 1980s when he began writing op-ed articles and news analyses.

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  1. the reverse is not the same die as the Bass coin. The date placement is different. On the “new” example here, the tail of the 7 is over a highpoint on the ribbon. On the Bass coin, it is to the left of that.

  2. Thanks, Saul. It would also be helpful to know if numismatic researchers ever determined whether the Bass coin is indeed unique, or if there are two examples. The likelihood that a third example would surface that no one had heard of previously does seem very low.

  3. When you see them side by side above, there are obvious differences in the size and type of fonts used in dollars, 1870, and the mint mark. Even the 3 in the GA coin is thicker.

  4. Was this coin monetized? For the coin to be hidden in a book like this, makes me think, were it real, it would have been illegally carried out of the mint by an employee…. if, that is, it’s even real.

  5. As mentioned in the Article with our Editors Note, Coinweek has been in contact with a number of the leading US coin experts, and universally the GA auction coin is considered to be a counterfeit.

    We posted a side by side view of the reverse at the end of the article, and as Saul and other have pointed out, the diagnostics on the genuine Bass example do not match up with this other coin.

    We are in the process of contacted the auction house to see if we can get more of the back story on this coins, where it cam from and who the consigner was, since as presented, it appears the story about having found the coin in an old souvenir book an a San Francisco Bookstore seems overly detailed. We will keep the numismatic community posted on what we find out

  6. The “0” in 1870 stands out; it would be interesting to compare this coin’s die characteristics with that of other Philadelphia or San Francisco $3s from the 1870s. I agree that the reverse dies are different and that the authenticity of this coin is questionable. It looks like someone some time ago seeded this coin into the book to be found later, a prank from someone long gone.

  7. Many sources are now reporting that Steve White, the head of the GA auction company, says the coin is in the process of being authenticated and that it will be offered for sale later. So there still may be more to this story. Thanks to everyone who weighed in.

  8. I came into possession of a 3 dollar 1870 coin like this. It is really rough. Did they make imitation coins? Surely it is not the real thing.


  9. I have an 1870 3 dollar Indian princess head marked s.right above the s in all capital letters it is stamped appears to be real as it gets but I am unsure about the stamp reading COPY. I need to know more but the history of the 1870 3 dollar coin minted s, seems unclear and I would like to know as much as I can in case this is the real deal.

    • If it says “Copy” on it, you should trust that it is a copy. Although there are many instances where counterfeit and replica coins are made and marketed as genuine, efforts to protect consumers has led to the passage and subsequent strengthening of the Hobby Protection Act. Your replica piece just happens to comply with these rules.

    • Ashley it was the true real duplicate that you did once own back in 2017 Of the 1870 S $3 gold-silver coin.The coin had copy stamped into the wreath right above the S which shows a deep red. I purchased it at a market in Lancaster PA in 2020 with all my research I’ve seen a lot of copy coins and replicas, Counterfeits, but nothing like this. I believe that this was made in the San Francisco mint.


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