By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner ……
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The motto IN GOD WE TRUST was added to the reverse of the half eagle in 1866 which created a second type of Liberty Head half eagle from San Francisco. A total of 39 issues are known; this includes the 1901-S and the 1901/0-S. Half eagles were struck at San Francisco every year from 1866 through 1888 and more sporadically in the final two decades of this design, with none struck at this facility between 1889 and 1891, or in 1907 and 1908.
The No Motto half eagles from this mint are far more popular with collectors than their With Motto counterparts. This is due both to the duration of the With Motto type and the fact that there are numerous common dates that aren’t numismatically significant. Some collectors actually split the With Motto design into two groups: the scarcer, more interesting date run from 1866 through 1877, and the more common issues from 1878 through 1906.
The With Motto half eagles from San Francisco do not feature any extremely rare issues like the No Motto half eagles from this mint do. The 39-coin set is very completable and even the collector on a limited budget ($500-$2,500 per coin) should be able to finish it. Every issue from 1878 through 1906 is available in Uncirculated, and the majority of these coins are currently valued at $1,500 or less in nice Uncirculated.
Included in each description below are rarity rankings based on overall rarity and high-grade (condition) rarity for these issues. Please note that high-grade rarity is based on coins grading AU55 and finer for the 1866-S through 1878-S issues, and in MS60 and finer for the later dates.
1866-S With Motto
While not as well-known as the No Motto half eagle dated 1866-S, this issue is actually more difficult to locate in higher grades. In fact, it is very rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58, and it is likely unknown in Uncirculated. There are an estimated 75-85 known from a mintage of 34,920 and the best example I have handled was a PCGS AU58. There are likely no more than seven or eight properly graded AUs, and a nice quality AU53 makes it into the Condition Census.
1866-S WITH MOTTO $5.00 PCGS AU55 CAC
This issue is almost never seen with original color and the surfaces are almost always abraded. The strike tends to show weakness on the head of the eagle as well as on the arrow feathers. The mintmark is extremely small and it tends to be faint, making it difficult to discern on lower-grade examples.
I regard this date as very undervalued in VF and EF grades. A nice AU is somewhat costly (considering how few people collect With Motto half eagles from this mint by date), but I still feel such coins are good value.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 3rd of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 3rd of 39
The 1867-S is not a highly regarded issue in the half eagle series, but it is actually the single-rarest With Motto issue from San Francisco in terms of high-grade rarity. This date is extremely rare in AU55 and AU58 grades, and it is unknown in Uncirculated. The best I have seen or handled is a PCGS/CAC AU58, which I sold to a New Jersey specialized collector a few years back.
1867-S $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC
As with the 1866-S With Motto, this is an issue that tends to come bright and abraded. Just a small number of Choice, original pieces exist. The strike tends to be better than on other San Francisco half eagles of this era although the mintmark is extremely faint on many coins. Any 1867-S half eagle in EF45 or better with good eye appeal should command a strong premium over a typical low-quality example.
The 1867-S is downright cheap in VF and EF grades, and only moderately expensive in the lower AU grades.
If you have an opportunity to buy a nice AU 1867-S, I’d suggest saying “yes” as this date is very undervalued.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 1st of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 4th of 39
While scarce, the 1868-S is more available than the 1866-S With Motto and the 1867-S. It is similar in overall rarity to the 1869-S but it is more available in higher grades. There are probably as many as a dozen known in About Uncirculated, and one or two in Uncirculated. The finest I have seen is Stack’s Bowers 3/18: 10342 graded MS61 by PCGS, which realized $22,800. Another PCGS MS61 is known and it last sold for $18,213 as Heritage 6/15: 4258.
1868-S $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC
The strike seen on this date is slightly better than average with weakness typically seen at the centers only. Virtually every 1868-S half eagle I have seen has been cleaned or lightened and this is compounded by deep detracting abrasions. The mintmark is very small and it is often faintly impressed.
Price levels for this date are very reasonable and a decent AU55 should only cost around $4,000; such a coin qualifies at the tail end of the Condition Census for the date.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 10th of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 8th of 39
The 1869-S is similar in overall rarity to the 1868-S but it is rarer in high grades. There are likely fewer than 10 properly graded AU pieces known and I am aware of two in Uncirculated: a PCGS MS61 that brought $16,100 in 2009, and a PCGS MS62, which last sold for $24,150 in late 2009.
1869-S $5.00 PCGS AU58 CAC
This issue always shows weakness at the center with incomplete hair curls below ERTY in LIBERTY and weakness on the eagle’s neck and the horizontal lines in the shield. There are not many known with original color, and even coins graded AU55 or AU58 have impaired luster. Again, the mintmark is small and can be overlooked on lower-grade pieces.
This date is better known than the 1867-S and the 1868-S, and nice AU examples are more expensive than these two dates.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 4th of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 7th of 39
The 1870-S has a surviving population of around 100 in all grades, mostly in the VF-EF range. The population figures for AU coins are swelled by re-submissions and this date is actually quite rare in properly graded AU55 and extremely rare in AU58. I have never seen or heard of an Uncirculated 1870-S half eagle, and I have seen just two graded AU58 that I liked.
1870-S $5.00 PCGS AU55
The strike on the 1870-S half eagle is reasonably sharp save for the mintmark, which is very small and sometimes faintly impressed. This issue seldom shows original color or choice surfaces and any piece with good overall eye appeal is extremely scarce.
An AU55 is clearly in the Condition Census and, if available, it should cost around $7,000 to $8,000.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 9th of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 5th of 39
It is interesting to note that all 1871-S gold coinage is more readily available in comparatively high grades than are other San Francisco issues from this era. The 1871-S is the most available San Francisco half eagle struck during the first decade of With Motto issues from this mint. It is very rare in Uncirculated and there are two known: the PCGS MS61 from the Bass and Eliasberg sales and the PCGS/CAC MS63+ from the Bentley Collection, which was upgraded from PCGS MS61.
1871-S $5.00 PCGS AU58
This issue tends to be slightly weak at the centers. Most examples lack original color and have mishandled surfaces.
AU55 examples are occasionally available in the $4,000-$4,500 range, while an AU58 will cost around $6,000.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 12th of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 9th of 39
The 1872-S is similar to the 1871-S in terms of overall rarity. It, too, is sometimes seen in the lower AU grades but it is rare in AU55, very rare in AU58, and likely unknown in Uncirculated. The highest-graded specimen is a single MS61 at PCGS. I have never seen this coin in person.
1872-S $5.00 NGC EF45 CAC
This date is generally seen with a decent strike and good luster but few are original and most are very abraded.
A Condition Census example costs in the $4,000-$5,000 range, making this date a good overall value.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 8th of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 10th of 39
I regard the 1873-S as the #1 sleeper issue in all the With Motto half eagles from this mint. It is very rare in AU55, extremely rare in AU58, and unknown in Uncirculated. I have only handled two in AU58 and not many more than this in AU55.
1873-S $5.00 NGC AU58 CAC
Only a small handful of attractive 1873-S half eagles exist, as most are seen with detracting marks and impaired luster. As on all of these early With Motto half eagles from San Francisco, the mintmark is small and sometimes very lightly impressed.
Even if you do not collect this series, I would strongly suggest buying a nice 1873-S half eagle if you are ever offered one.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 5TH of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 12th of 39
The 1874-S is another very underrated issue in this series. It is comparable to the 1873-S in terms of its overall rarity and it is just a bit more available than this date in higher grades. It is very rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58, and it is unknown in Uncirculated.
1874-S $5.00 PCGS AU55
I can’t recall having seen or handling more than three or four About Uncirculated examples of this date which had good eye appeal, and it is interesting to note that CAC has approved just one 1874-S half eagle in AU55 and two in AU58.
At current levels, AU53 to AU55 1874-S half eagles seem very undervalued with coins ranging from $2,500 to $4,000+. Interestingly, the few PCGS AU58 auction records that exist are higher than one might expect at $13,200 (Stack’s 3/18) and $14,250 (DLRC 8/16), respectively.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 6th of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 6th of 39
The mintage figure for this date is just 9,000 coins and it is likely that fewer than 100 1875-S half eagles exist in all grades. The 1875-S is the second-rarest With Motto San Francisco half eagle in terms of its overall rarity but it is actually a bit more available in the AU grade range than one might expect. I have handled two nice AU58s, and know of at least two or three more (including a PCGS AU58+). This date is unique in Uncirculated, with the sole piece known to be the NGC MS64 Stack/Bass coin, which last sold in 2001.
1875-S $5.00 NGC AU55 CAC
The natural color for this coin is a fairly deep reddish-orange and it tends to be well struck with sharp centers. On virtually all 1875-S half eagles, the surfaces are highly scuffed and this tends to impair the luster. The mintmark is small and is often faintly impressed.
This date is more expensive than the 1873-S and the 1874-S, and its low mintage figure is a clear indicator of its scarcity. But it’s still a good value in AU55 and AU58.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 7th of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 2nd of 39
The 1876-S is probably the best known of the early date With Motto half eagles from this mint and this is due to its low mintage of only 4,000 coins. It is the rarest date of this type in terms of its overall rarity and it also lays claim to being the rarest in higher grades as well. There are fewer than 10 known in AU with nearly all in the 50 to 53 range.
There are, surprisingly, two known in Uncirculated: a PCGS MS60 (ex: Bass and once graded AU58), and an NGC MS65 (ex: Garrett and unseen for decades).
1876-S $5.00 PCGS AU58
All 1876-S half eagles have a diagnostic hole in the earlobe of Liberty, which can be seen even on lower-grade coins. The strike tends to be sharp at the centers with a number of examples showing weakness at the borders, especially on the stars. The luster is most often frosty and the natural color is a medium russet-gold.
This is the most expensive date in the With Motto San Francisco half eagle series and while I wouldn’t say it is overvalued (very few, if any, San Francisco half eagles are overvalued), it is certainly more fully priced than issues such as the 1873-S and the 1874-S.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 2nd of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 1st OF 39
The 1877-S is often lumped in with the more common San Francisco half eagles made from 1878 onwards but it is actually a reasonably tough date to locate, especially in AU55 and above. There are three or four known in Uncirculated, with the finest a PCGS MS64 that last sold in the 2004 FUN auction for $28,750.
1877-S $5.00 NGC VF35 CAC
This date is characterized by noticeably abraded surfaces that tend to impair the frosty mint luster.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 11th of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 11th of 39
The mintage figure for half eagles from this mint in 1878 jumped all the way up to 144,700. As one might expect, the 1878-S is common in grades through MS62 but it is very scarce in MS63, rare in MS64 and currently unique in MS65 with just a single coin so graded by PCGS.
1878-S $5.00 PCGS MS64+ CAC
This is a well-made issue with excellent luster that tends to be extremely frosty in texture. The natural color is a rich rose and medium orange-gold.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 12th of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 12th of 39
This is the most available pre-1880 half eagle from San Francisco. The 1879-S is common in grades through MS63, but it is scarce in MS64 and unique in MS65. The finest known sold for $23,000 in November 2006.
1879-S $5.00 NGC MS62+ CAC
This is a well-made issue with excellent luster and color. It is reasonably priced in MS63 and is the best value grade. An MS64 will cost around $5,500 – which seems like a lot for a coin that doesn’t appeal to many collectors.
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 13th of 39
- OVERALL RARITY: 13th of 39
The next article in this series will cover San Francisco half eagles struck from 1880 through 1906.
Are you interested in collecting San Francisco half eagles? Please feel free to contact me at (214) 675-9897 and let’s get started.
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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 has 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.