By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
Liberty Head gold coins from the Philadelphia Mint were struck from 1838 through 1908 in six different denominations. There are hundreds of individual issues and they range from extremely common to extremely rare. These coins tend to be less desired than their branch mint counterparts for at least four reasons:
- The duration of many denominations is so long that they tend not to be collector-friendly for set builders.
- They don’t have the “sex appeal” of the Southern branch mint issues.
- They contain many grade rarities, which makes set building very difficult.
- Yours truly has never written a reference book about Philadelphia gold coins, which leaves collectors “on their own” when it comes to purchasing coins.
Because of these factors (and more), there are probably more overlooked and subsequently undervalued gold coins from Philadelphia than from any other mint – maybe even more than from all of the other mints combined.
In this article, I’m going to discuss the first 14 “undervalued” P mint Liberty Head gold coins that pop into my mind. Rest assured, I could have easily tripled the size of this group – and I’ve tried to include as broad a mix of denominations as possible. Note that I’m focusing on dates that I feel are undervalued in all grades, not just in high grades. This keeps me from painting with a broad brush and stating, for instance, that “all No Motto half eagles in properly graded MS63 and finer are rare and undervalued.”
1865 Gold Dollar
In the Civil War gold dollar subset, the 1863 gets all the love (and has the highest price) but I have actually handled fewer 1865 gold dollars over the years. This date has a very odd pattern of survival, with virtually no survivors in grades below AU55 or above MS65. Clearly, this date didn’t circulate and many were melted. Unlike many of the other gold dollars from this era, there are not many super-Gems known that were put away by collectors, dealers, and hoarders at the time of issue.
1865 $1.00 PCGS MS67 CAC. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)
It seems likely that the PCGS population for 1865 gold dollars is inflated by resubmissions. There are supposedly six graded in both MS63 and MS64, but only one MS63 has been sold at auction since 2009, and the last MS64 to cross the block was in 2006.
The two finest known 1865 gold dollars are the PCGS MS68+ in the Big Mo Collection, and the PCGS MS68 owned by Bob Simpson.
1873 Closed 3 Gold Dollar
Here is an issue that gets little respect due to the fact that its counterpart the 1873 Open 3 gold dollar is so common that most collectors naturally assume the same for the Closed 3. With a reported mintage of just 1,800, this date is scarce even in circulated grades. Remarkably, you can buy a decent AU58 example for under $1,000 USD and even an MS63 will only cost you around $3,000.
Where the 1873 Closed 3 gold dollar really becomes rare, though, is in high grades. I have never handled a Gem and the current PCGS population of two in MS65 with just one finer (a single MS66) explains why.
Some collectors will argue that this issue is a variety and that this is why it is undervalued. I disagree, as the Open and Closed 3 varieties are found on all Philadelphia gold denominations of this year (save for the eagle), and all are collected as “regular” issues.
1844 Quarter Eagle
Over the course of the last few years, I’ve championed the Philadelphia quarter eagles from the 1840s. Almost without exception, these issues are undervalued. The rarest member of this subset is, of course, the ultra-low-mintage 1842. However, this coin is relatively expensive and I can’t really claim it is “undervalued” anymore. In its place, I’m selecting the second-rarest quarter eagle from this group, the 1844.
1844 $2.50 NGC AU55 CAC
It is interesting to compare the total number of coins graded by PCGS based on the 1842 (a total of 37), and the 1844 (a total of 46). This suggests that the latter is just a bit less rare overall but at a significantly reduced price.
The current value of a nice AU55 example of this date is around $3,500. This seems like a real bargain to me.
1867 Quarter Eagle
This date has been a favorite of mine for years and while it has increased significantly in value, I think it is still much undervalued, especially when compared to the scarcer but far more expensive 1865 and 1866.
1867 $2.50 PCGS MS61
I’ve seen estimates that as few as 50 examples of this date are known and this seems too low to me, but not by all that much. There are a few more Uncirculated 1867 quarter eagles around than one might expect with six to eight accounted for including a PCGS/CAC MS64 (now in a 64+ holder), and the Gem PCGS MS65 that sold back in the 1999 FUN auction for $24,150.
It is still possible to buy a nice AU example of this date for less than $4,000 and this is excellent value, in my opinion.
1877 Three Dollars
A strong case can be made for calling this the single-rarest Philadelphia date of this type in all grades; only the 1873 Closed 3 offers strong competition.
1877 $3.00 PCGS MS62
The 1877 is a scarce coin both from the perspective of overall rarity and appearance rarity. It is an issue which is extremely challenging to locate with good eye appeal as most have been brightened and/or mishandled. A quick browse of the CAC census shows a total of a dozen 1877 threes with approval; 10 of which grade About Uncirculated.
This is not an inexpensive coin and you’ll likely have to spend at least $10,000 to buy a nice 1877. But if this series ever regains date collecting converts, it has the potential to show excellent appreciation.
1881 Three Dollars
How could I overlook this low-mintage issue with its crazy small production of 500 business strikes? Sure, the 1881 three isn’t as scarce as the mintage would suggest but, c’mon, how can you not love the fact that a nice AU example is priced at just $7,500 or so?
1881 $3.00 PCGS AU58 CAC
For those with a bigger pocketbook, a higher grade 1881 is going to cost around $17,000-19,000 for an MS63, and $25,000-30,000 for an MS64. Mind you, neither of these will be easy to locate (especially if you require a PCGS/CAC coin) and I know of just one Gem: the Pogue coin that brought a record-setting $76,375 in February 2016. That coin, by the way, is graded PCGS MS66+.
There are two other dates from the 1880s with sub-1,000 mintages: the 1883, with 900 struck, and the 1885, with 801 made for circulation). And while I like these as well, I find the 1881 to be a tougher coin.
1842 Large Letters Half Eagle
I love both varieties of this date (Small Letters and Large Letters) but if I have to choose only one, I’m going with the Large Letters. This is the scarcest Liberty Head Philadelphia half eagle struck prior to the Civil War, and the current number graded at PCGS is a scant 25 pieces.
1842 LARGE LETTERS $5.00 EF40 CAC
A coin this rare has got to be pretty expensive, right? Well, think again.
An Extremely Fine (if you can find one) should cost less than $2,500 while a nice AU should cost under $5,000. If you put a C or a D mintmark on a coin of similar rarity, you would be looking at an item worth four or five times more.
A quick word on a recommended set: No Motto P mint half eagles, 1839-1865. Completable? Check. Affordable? For the most part, check. (And a strong yes if the cut-off date the set is 1861).
1859 Half Eagle
Now here is an issue that really flies under the radar.
The 1859 half eagle has a reasonably low mintage of 16,734, but it is priced at around two to three times what a common date No Motto half eagle is worth in EF and AU grades. This date is most certainly not common and while I wouldn’t call it “rare” in AU, it offers plenty of bang for the buck. An AU55 will run around $2,000 and an AU58 should cost $3,500 or so.
1859 $5.00 PCGS MS62, EX BASS
If you ever get the chance to purchase a reasonably priced Uncirculated 1859 half eagle, I suggest you write your check quickly. This date is really rare in Uncirculated with just three to five known. I’ve only handled two, with the best being a PCGS MS62.
1869 Half Eagle
With an original mintage of just 1,760 business strikes, you’d expect the 1869 half eagle to be a widely-recognized rarity. But due to the fact that With Motto P mint half eagles have few date collectors, this is an issue that has fallen through the cracks. That’s not to say that the 1869 is inexpensive but at current levels, I regard this date as a steal.
1869 $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC
The most recent PCGS Price Guide suggests a value of $5,000 for an AU50, $9,000 for an AU55, and $11,000 for an AU58. Unless a specific example is CAC-approved and very choice, you’ll likely to be able to obtain an 1869 at a discount to these levels. Given that most 1869 half eagles are very low end for the grade, expect to pay up for one of the very few that are nice (FYI, the current CAC population for this date is a whopping one coin; an AU58 I sold last year).
There are three pre-Civil War eagles from Philadelphia that I regard as legitimately rare: the 1839/Head of 1840; the 1844; and the 1858.
Of the three, the 1844 is the rarest both in terms of overall and high-grade rarity. There are just four or five dozen examples of this date and unlike other scarce issues of this type, quantities have not been located in overseas hoards (at least not yet…).
There aren’t many examples of this date that grade AU55 or finer; certainly not more than five or six. And there are just two known in Uncirculated: an NGC MS61 and an NGC MS63 owned by the Tyrant Collection and ex Heritage 2/18: 4230 at $72,000.
Despite the rarity of this coin, it really doesn’t get expensive until you reach the AU55 range. I recently sold a nice PCGS EF40 for a bit less than $4,000, and the last AU50 I handled sold in the high $5s.
This is a reasonably well-known issue with just three dozen or so known from a tiny original mintage of 1,248. PCGS has only graded 23 examples and this is likely inflated by resubmissions.
1863 $10.00 PCGS AU50
The 1863 eagle is the priciest coin on this list. I just listed an example on my website in PCGS AU50 for $45,000. But, in my opinion, this coin compares favorably to the 1864-S, which is valued at more than three times as much. I’m not making the case for the 1864-S eagle being overpriced; it’s a key Civil War issue and a coin that has become somewhat trendy in recent years as more collectors learn how rare it is. But 1863 has a lower mintage, it also has a Civil War date of issue and it is only a smidge less rare in AU grades. By these metrics, the 1863 eagle should be worth close to double its current level.
This date is not as well-known as the 1863 but it has an even lower mintage with only 800 business strikes made. There are an estimated 30-40 known with most in the EF40 to AU53 range. This is a date that tends to come with below-average eye appeal due to most pieces showing extremely bagmarked surfaces.
1873 $10.00 PCGS AU53
The 1873 eagle isn’t an inexpensive date but I think its price doesn’t fully reflect just how rare it is. In their February 2020 auction, Heritage sold a nice PCGS/CAC EF45 for $25,200 which sounds like a lot of money, but we are talking a truly rare issue here. Expect to pay in the mid-to-high $30s for a mid-range AU example.
1859 Double Eagle
There are more date collectors of Liberty Head double eagles than all other series of this design so the concept of being “undervalued” is applied somewhat differently to this denomination. But I think almost any serious student of 19th-century gold coinage will agree that the 1859 is not accorded the respect it deserves.
1859 $20.00 PCGS AU55 CAC
I regard this date to be the second rarest Type One issue after the 1862. There have been reasonably few found in recent overseas hoards that have swelled the populations of such dates as the 1855, 1856, 1857, and 1858 and the ones which have been located tend to be in lower grades.
I really like this issue in the mid-AU grades. An AU53 should price out at around $10,000-12,000 while an AU55 seems like an even better value at around $14,000-16,000.
1868 Double Eagle
The 1868 has been recognized as the scarcest Philadelphia Type Two double eagle for some time. Recent hoards have made this date more available in About Uncirculated than in the recent past, but the date is popular enough that values have stood up very well.
1868 $20.00 NGC AU55 CAC
A nice AU55 example of this date should be available in the $7,500-8,500 range while an AU58 will run $11,000-13,000. The 1868 remains a very scarce issue in Uncirculated and I’m not aware of a single MS61 or finer example from the recent hoard(s) which have entered the market since 2018.
This is an issue that tends to come reasonably nice, so if you don’t like the first example or two that you are offered, be patient. A better one is likely to turn up.
Runner-Up Philadelphia Gold Coins
How about a runners-up list that includes some dates that could have just as easily made this list if it were expanded to include more coins?
- Gold Dollars: 1850, 1864, 1871
- Quarter Eagles: 1846, 1848, 1859, 1883, 1884
- Three Dollars: 1865, 1871, 1873 Closed 3
- Half Eagles: 1850, 1871, 1872, 1877
- Eagles: 1841, 1843, 1858, 1871, 1876
- Double Eagles: 1854 Large Date, 1886, 1891
Would you like to assemble a set that focuses on undervalued 19th-century gold coins? Contact Doug Winter at (214) 675-9897 to discuss this or any other collecting goals which you might have.
Get Your Copies of Doug’s Books at CoinWeek Supplies.
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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 the 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 “Redbook”) 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.