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The Million-Dollar Liberty Head Eagle

By Doug WinterRareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
It’s likely that Heritage’s recent sale of a PCGS AU53 1875 Liberty Head eagle will go largely unnoticed by non-specialists. After all, million-dollar coins are a common occurrence at coin auctions in the 2020s, and to get noticed today, a coin needs to hammer for at least $4+ million.

But to those of us at a certain age, a million bucks is still a ton of money for a coin – especially a circulated coin that has flown under the radar for years.

Some background is in order.

The Million-Dollar Liberty Head Eagle
1875 $10.00 PCGS AU53. Image courtesy Heritage Auctions

The 1875 is the undisputed key to the Liberty Head eagle series with likely no more than 10 known from an original mintage of just 100. Not only is it definitively rare from an overall perspective but it is also a grade rarity, with none finer than AU53+ at PCGS. The coin at Heritage (lot 3261 in the September 2022 Long Beach sale) was graded AU53. It was very fresh, having last appeared at auction back in 1997, and it is well-pedigreed, having originally come from the James Carter sale (Stack’s 1/1986) – a collection that contained mostly nice to very nice coins. I graded the coin 53+ to 55.

The coin hammered at $850,000 USD, which means that with the 20% buyer’s premium, it sold for $1,020,000. This is, by far, a world record for any business strike Liberty Head eagle.

I will freely admit that I was stunned by the price. In fact, I texted another dealer a few days before the sale and said I would like to split the coin in case it “fell through the cracks.” How 2019 of me… in 2022, almost nothing falls through the cracks at major auctions.

Here are some random thoughts:

In late 2019, a prominent venture capitalist contacted me about assembling a world-class set of Liberty Head eagles. I mentioned that there was, coincidentally, an important complete set of these that was coming on the market in February 2020. I was very familiar with the coins in the collection as I had sold the owner a number of them and the coin I urged him to focus on was the 1875.

I had purchased the coin in the set for the owner in 2018 for $372,000, and I remember telling the prospective new owner that I thought 1875 eagles were very underappreciated and that in the future it could be a $500,000-$600,000+ coin. After preparing an extremely detailed proposal for this individual, he decided that the series was “too complicated” (his exact words… sigh) and he stopped communicating with me.

My point is this: I certainly didn’t expect the 1875 $10 to become a million-dollar coin in 2022; let alone in my lifetime.

Before the Trophy Coin Era (which really began in earnest around 2020), the price of rare coins went up incrementally. A coin like an AU 1875 eagle was worth $150k in the 2000s, $250k in the early 2010s, and $350k in the early 2020s. Given its price history, one would have expected the next price increment for this date to have been $450k (maybe even $500k) in 2022. But this isn’t how values work today, and as a result, we have yet another record price that is multiples higher than the previous peak of $372,000.

How will this price impact comparable Liberty Head gold coins? The two issues which I think are most closely aligned with the 1875 eagle are the 1854-S quarter eagle and the 1875 half eagle.

1854-S $2.50 PCGS VF35. Image courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)

The 1854-S quarter eagle is slightly less rare than the 1875 eagle in terms of overall rarity but it is rarer in high grades (in this case, AU and finer). The most recent sale of a nice 1854-S was in March 2020 when the Pogue-Bass PCGS AU50 brought $384,000. Given that a PCGS VG10 sold for $360,000 in May 2022, I’d say that the AU50 was a pretty good deal, no?

1875 $5.00 NGC AU55. Image courtesy DWN

The 1875 half eagle is virtually equal in terms of overall and condition rarity to its big brother the 1875 eagle. An exceptionally nice PCGS/CAC AU53 1875 half eagle brought $480,000 as Stack’s Bowers 4/2022: 5137. This seemed like a really strong price at the time but now it seems like a really fair one. It is part of a series with more collectors than Liberty Head eagles and it was a slightly nicer coin (in my opinion) than the PCGS AU53 1875 eagle that just eclipsed the $1 million mark.

If you bought either of these two coins, congratulations – you are a winner. I can think of at least three other collectors who should be buying their significant other an extra nice dinner tonight.

The Southern California collector to whom I sold the Dallas Bank Collection coin (a solid EF45 or better) back in 2001 for around $40,000. Nice purchase!

Dell Loy Hansen, who purchased the PCGS AU50 in February 2020 I mentioned above for $360,000. It was a good purchase then and it looks even better today.

The owner of the Tyrant Collection (likely the savviest rare coin collector in the US if not on the face of the Earth) owns multiple examples of this date in both business strike and Proof formats.

What will be the next under-the-radar $1 million dollar US gold coin? Let me know your thoughts on this.
Doug Winter Numismatics, specialists in U.S. gold coins

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About Doug Winter

Doug_Winter2Doug 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.


Doug Winter
Doug Winterhttps://www.raregoldcoins.com
Doug Winter founded Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN) in 1985. The nationally renowned firm specializes in buying and selling rare United States gold coins. He has written over a dozen books, including the standard references on Charlotte, Dahlonega, and New Orleans gold coinage, and Type 1 Liberty Head Double Eagles. Douglas has also contributed to the A Guidebook of United States Coins, 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. He is a member of the PNG, the ANA, the ANS, the NLG, CAC, PCGS, and NGC - among other professional affiliations. Contact Doug Winter at [email protected].

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