By Leo Frese…
A few years ago, an East Coast gentleman consigned his collection for me to market. Among his holdings was a Pattern that was quite “interesting”. My research and insights follow.
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From the numismatic perspective, 1875 was a rather exciting year. First, Congress approved the new 20c denomination, and there were seven different 20c Patterns struck in various metals as the mint searched for the perfect coin. Sadly, the new denomination would last only a few years and cease after the production of 600 proofs in 1878.
1875 saw other important numismatic events, not the least of which was the paltry issuance of the Liberty Head eagle. Only 120 gold eagles were minted, with 20 of those being Proofs. Far and away the RAREST Liberty eagle produced.
So, you ask, if this coin is so rare, where do I get my title for this article? Read on!
If you were to ask today’s top gold experts to list the five most difficult $10 gold eagles to obtain, the 1875 would show up on everyone’s list. Both Doug Winter and the late David Akers named the 1875 as the most difficult Liberty Eagle to find, and among the great gold rarities of any denomination.
During the years 1865-1876, the United States Mint struck virtually all of the regular issue coins in copper and or aluminum. These Pattern coins (“Trial Strikes”) were invariably the first coins off the dies and are eagerly sought by many of today’s collectors. Most of the gold denominations are typically high R-7s and R-8s on the rarity scale, meaning there were only two to four made.
So, what’s so “common” about that?
In 1875, there were three to four trial eagles struck in copper, and one of them, for some yet unknown reason, was gilt at the Mint. This single coin has been certified three times, once by PCGS and twice by NGC. All three times, J-1446a has been graded PR 64. Herein lies our mystery. Not only do we need to ask why was this special coin made and who was it presented to, but we must also ask why is this the least valuable of all the 1875 eagles? It certainly isn’t the most common!
I am not suggesting for a moment that the Pattern coins are worth as much or more than the regular issues.
Yes, there are many Pattern coins that are unique or R-8. That fact in and of itself does not justify a high price. However, numismatics has taught us that rarity combined with “a story” equals demand and value. No, this gilt pattern wasn’t spent for an ice cream cone, nor was it struck 30 years after the fact, and B. Max Mehl never sought to obtain every example! Yet there is intrigue and mystery surrounding this lone gilt example of the 1875 $10 eagle.
In August of 2001, the annual American Numismatic Association (ANA) convention, was held in Atlanta, Georgia. The Official Auctioneer was featuring the Genaitis Collection of 1875 Coinage in their auction. The Genaitis Collection featured three 1875 eagles: an NGC AU 53, an NGC J-1446 PR 66 RB, and an NGC J-1446a Gilt PR 64. Interestingly, both patterns were Ex: Harry Bass.
Talk about a rare date! Today there are only eight to 10 known circulation strikes, 10-12 Proofs, and 2-3 Judd 1446 Pattern coins. But there is only one Judd 1446a Gilt 1875 eagle. Now, I must concede, the purist will argue that comparing Patterns to circulation strikes is “out of bounds” and “unacceptable”. I will argue, at least for the sake of this rare date, that these “trial strikes” were produced inside the Mint from the very dies used to produce that paltry mintage of 120 coins. As such they are worthy of our consideration, discussion, and argument – not only for their historical value but also for their numismatic value. They will not receive the same degree of attention as their circulation strike brothers and sisters, but they are worthy of serious consideration by today’s collector.
Let’s look at price and value for a moment. The Genaitis 1875 Eagle in NGC AU 53 sold for $41,400 USD. The J-1446 in NGC PR 66 RB sold for $13,225, and the Gilt J-1446a sold for $7188 (all prices include the Buyer’s Fee). So, arguably, the rarest of the three sold for the least amount of money–by a large margin! The rarest is truly the most “common” if we look simply at price. But there’s more.
Since 2001, the $10 Liberty Head series has “come into its own,” as they say, and prices for the rarities have soared. That same NGC AU 53 coin was later regraded by PCGS as an AU 53+ and has since resold at auction for $345,000! I suggest, if you have not already done so, reading Doug Winter’s well-written and informative article on the price this coin brought.
What does this mean, if anything, for the 1875 eagle Patterns?
Certainly, they are popular. But to suggest they may have risen in value by a similar percentage would be folly. However, they prove rarity is still affordable in today’s marketplace, and coins with a story make for fine additions to one’s collection. Again, I’m not suggesting that the trial strikes are worth anywhere near what the 100 circulation strikes or 20 Proofs are worth. Nevertheless, for the collector who can not afford $150,000 to $350,000 for the 1875, the trials offer a solid value for their collection, and the gilt example is especially enticing.
One final question: to whom was the 1446a gilt piece given in 1875?