By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner
In my many years of specializing in rare United States gold coins, beginning in 2018, nothing has had as profound an impact on San Francisco issues as the Fairmont Hoard.
In my opinion, the addition of hundreds if not thousands of significant San Francisco half eagles, eagles, and double eagles has been a net positive for this segment of the market. If you’ve always wanted to collect a nice date run of, say, No Motto San Francisco half eagles, you were stymied in the past by a lack of available coins (let alone nice ones).
The numismatic Chicken Littles who have squawked that the flood of rare San Francisco coins is a recipe for a West Coast Meltdown are missing an important point. Even if there are three more nice 1864-S half eagles or five more choice EF 1869-S half eagles (these numbers are hypothetical), this market seems deep enough to absorb these numbers. Now, if a group of 100 or so nice 1894-S half eagles turned out to be in the upcoming Fairmont releases, could the market absorb these? Most definitely not, and the 1894-S would quickly turn into a semi-trash date instead of the late date sleeper that it currently is.
In this first of a multi-part series, let’s take a deep dive into San Francisco half eagles up through the late 1870s and gauge the “Fairmont Effect” as of the middle of 2022.
No Motto (1854-1866)
1854-S: Didn’t you kinda/sorta hope that there were a few 1854-S half eagles in this hoard? There weren’t. And the owners of the two available 1854-S half eagles can breathe a sigh of relief. For now.
1855-S: This date has seen a small number of AU55 to AU58 examples from Planet Fairmont but nothing in very high grades. My guess is that 1855-era San Francisco was so starved for smaller denomination gold coinage to facilitate commercial transactions that much of this issue saw heavy local use through the Civil War years. It also seems that early date half eagles from San Francisco were transported to banks in an especially rough manner, and many non-circulated coins are now lustrous AU55s and AU58s due to excessive bag abrasions.
1856-S: Given the relatively high mintage of this date (around 100), it was a no-brainer that there would be numerous 1856-S half eagles in the hoard. This includes lower-grade coins that aren’t designated as being from Fairmont, all the way up to the Fairmont/”Hendricks” PCGS/CAC MS62 that set a record price for the issue at $33,600 USD. That coin is likely the second-finest known after the NGC MS64, which brought $26,450 as Heritage 2/1999: 6288.
1857-S: If the SS Central America shipwreck findings didn’t destroy the rarity of the 1857-S half eagle in higher grades, then why would you expect the silly little Fairmont Hoard to do it? The single-finest 1857-S half eagle from Fairmont thus far is the PCGS/CAC MS61, which brought $11,000 as Stack’s Bowers 4/2022: 5088. This coin was dwarfed by the SSCA #2 PCGS/CAC MS65+, which set a new price record for this issue as $146,875 just a few days after the conclusion of the Fairmont/”Hendricks” sale in April.
1858-S: Although I can’t prove it, I’m pretty certain that a small group of higher-grade 1858-S half eagles hit the market prior to the release of the Fairmont coins. The population of this date in AU58 went from three or four to eight (as well as two different AU58+ examples) in a period of two or three years, and most of the coins that I saw were original and choice. Fairmont/”Hendricks”: 5093 brought $33,600 and it was a choice CAC-approved AU58. There’s something about this date that makes my Sneaky Coin Hoard Alarm™ ring loudly, and I’d be careful about buying an AU58 at current levels.
1859-S: Given that the initial 1859-S half eagles from Fairmont graded in the VF range, I was blown away by the finest known PCGS/CAC MS63 coin, which brought $144,000 in Stack’s Bowers 4/2022 auction. I have handled both of the PCGS MS62 1859-S half eagles (which, until the aforementioned coin came to light, were the only two Uncirculated examples known), and I can recall that the nice PCGS MS62 I handled a few years ago was a tough sell at $45,000. I think 144k is a ton of money for a PCGS/CAC MS63 1859-S half eagle, but I can pretty much guarantee you that a finer coin will never turn up.
1860-S: It appears that the 1860-S is decidedly under-represented in the Fairmont holdings, for any number of reasons. I doubt that there are groups of high-end 1860-S half eagles sitting in some foreign vault as this date is extremely rare in AU55 and there are just two in Uncirculated. With the Civil War a near-certainty by 1860, there was definitely a different circulation pattern for 1860-S half eagles than for the Philadelphia, Charlotte, and Dahlonega half eagles dated 1860 as all three of these issues are found in substantially higher grades than the mostly VF San Francisco coins that have been offered thus far.
1861-S: To date, there has been just a single 1861-S half eagle offered for sale from the Fairmont Hoard. In their April 2022 auction, Stack’s Bowers sold a nice PCGS/CAC EF45 for $16,800, which actually tied the all-time record price for this date at auction. I’ll let you in on a little secret: this date is incredibly rare in AU55 and finer, and I’ve never seen one that was even remotely close to being Uncirculated. In fact, I’ve only seen a single AU 1861-S half eagle that I liked; the PCGS/CAC AU53 in the DL Hansen Collection. I doubt whether Fairmont will have much of an impact on this incredibly undervalued issue.
1862-S: So far, there has been just a single 1862-S half eagle in the Fairmont holdings and that coin was “only” a PCGS/CAC EF45. Given the fact that a VG8 example of this date sold for $10,020 in October 2021, and that a PCGS F15 brought $15,600 in August 2021, the Fairmont/”Hendricks” coin–which I thought was by far the nicest EF of this date I’ve ever seen–was a steal at $25,200. The upcoming Fairmont/”JBR” set has a nice PCGS AU53 example of this date and it will be interesting to see what it sells for.
1863-S: The single Fairmont-sourced representative of this overlooked Civil War date was the underwhelming PCGS VF35 that Stack’s Bowers sold in April 2022 for $8,400. The rarity and availability of the 1863-S half eagle is almost certainly not going to be impacted by this hoard.
1864-S: No one was more surprised than me that there was a gorgeous PCGS/CAC AU58 example of this very rare issue in the Fairmont holdings. I’m intrigued that there is a second nice 1864-S half eagle that will be offered in the Stack’s Bower August 2022 sale of the “JBR” set. The PCGS/CAC AU58 (which I purchased for $264,000) is the second-finest known and it was the first nice 1864-S half eagle to sell at auction since the NGC EF45 Bently/Richmond coin that brought $79,313 back in March 2014. This issue is popular enough that it could absorb a number of pieces coming into the market, and I would be a happy buyer of as many as Fairmont chooses to throw at me.
1865-S: There have been a number of ex Fairmont 1865-S half eagles offered in various Stack’s Bowers sales going back to August 2019 – with the single best the PCGS/CAC AU58, which realized $28,800 in April 2022. The “JBR” coin grades PCGS AU55, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a number of lesser-quality EF and AU coins waiting in the wings. I’d be cautious about spending $20k or more on an 1865-S half eagle for the time being.
1866-S No Motto: In the Stack’s Bowers March 2017 sale, a PCGS MS61 example of this date set a record price ($50,525). The coin was fresh to the market and it was almost certainly found in Europe. However, it doesn’t appear to have been an early arrival from the Fairmont source. But big things are happening on the 1866-S No Motto front, with a PCGS/CAC AU58 bringing $40,800 as Stack’s Bowers 4/2022: 5113 and another even better Fairmont coin graded MS61 by PCGS coming up in August 2022. Three Condition Census 1866-S No Motto half eagles isn’t necessarily cause for an alert but I’d still be careful when buying pricey examples of this date.
With Motto (1866-1876; dates after 1876 not included due to boredom)
1866-S Motto: Until the appearance of a PCGS MS60 that sold for $38,400 as Fairmont/”Hendricks”: 5115, the 1866-S With Motto half eagles from Fairmont had all been in very low grades (as low as Good-6, in fact). However, the upcoming appearance of this date in PCGS MS61 signifies that there could be a small group of high-quality examples of this conditionally rare issue. The “JBR” coin that will sell in August is likely the finest known, and the fact that the number of coins graded in MS60 or finer has gone from one to three in the last six months is interesting, to say the least.
1867-S: This date makes for an interesting case study regarding the impact of a few high-end coins hitting the market. Prior to late 2020, the 1867-S was all but unknown higher than AU55. Stack’s Bowers offered a PCGS/CAC AU58 (not ex Fairmont), which brought $22,800 in December 2020; it later upgraded to PCGS/CAC AU58+ but brought an identical amount in its August 2021 re-appearance. In March 2021, another PCGS AU58 (not ex Fairmont and also not CAC-approved) brought $18,000. Then in April 2022, another nice coin graded AU55+ by PCGS/CAC (ex Fairmont) sold for $18,000. A fourth coin, graded AU55 by PCGS, will be offered in the upcoming Stack’s Bowers 8/2022 sale. Can the 1867-S survive a further onslaught? Given the limited demand for With Motto San Francisco half eagles, I’m likely not going to be a strong bidder on any more 1867-S half eagles.
1868-S: There have been numerous Fairmont-based 1868-S half eagles sold since 2020, but just one has been graded higher than EF45 by PCGS: Stack’s Bowers 4/2022: 5119, which sold for $9,600. The “JBR” set contains a PCGS AU58 but I don’t expect there to be a lot else of importance for this date in future offerings.
1869-S: A number of inconsequential 1869-S eagles were sold at auction by Stack’s Bowers between 2020 and 2022. A PCGS/CAC AU55+ from the “Hendricks” set was by far the nicest example of this date to be sold in years and the “JBR” coin in PCGS AU58 is even nicer.
1870-S: There’s been just a single 1870-S half eagle in the Fairmont holdings thus far but it’s a doozy: a PCGS/CAC AU58, which sold for a record-setting $22,800. The “JBR” coin is a PCGS AU55. This formerly overlooked issue gained more acceptance as a result of the April 2022 sale cited above, which is about all you can wish for as a result of the Fairmont coins coming onto the market.
1871-S: Hendricks: 5127 was just a PCGS/CAC AU50, but the upcoming “JBR” coin is a PCGS AU58. There are likely more 1871-S half eagles in Fairmont, but it is unlikely that more than a small number approach Condition Census status.
1872-S: I had never seen or heard of an Uncirculated 1872-S half eagle, but two PCGS MS61 have come on the market in the last two years. The first (non-Fairmont) brought $22,800 as Heritage 10/2020: 18383, while the second (ex Fairmont) brought $21,600 as Stack’s Bowers 4/2020: 5130. This shows that the market for even With Motto San Francisco half eagles is deep enough for two Uncirculated coins. Would it be deep enough for, say, three or four more? Likely not, and I’m guessing that the “JBR” AU58 will be a good value relative to the two MS61s of this date.
1873-S: This date has been profoundly impacted by Fairmont as there have been three PCGS AU58s and a PCGS/CAC MS61 added to the market since 2020. The MS61 is currently unique in this grade (with nothing better), and it sold for $28,800 in August 2020. There is no 1873-S in the “JBR” set, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few more nice AU55 or even AU58 coins overhanging the market. This is not a popular issue, and I would expect that these higher grade 1873-S half eagles have some potential downside.
1874-S: Most of the Fairmont examples of this date have been in the VF35 to EF45 grade range. The JBR PCGS AU58 is likely the best of these from Fairmont, and it should cause some interest among specialized collectors.
1875-S: I’m a fan of this date, and the single best 1875-S half eagle from Fairmont is the “JBR” AU58 that will sell later this summer. “Hendricks:” 5139 graded PCGS/CAC brought $14,400, and the upcoming PCGS AU58 should bring more – especially if it garners CAC approval.
1876-S: For over 40 years, the NGC MS65 Garrett 1876-S half eagle was unique in Uncirculated. It was joined by the “Hendricks” PCGS/CAC MS61, which brought a stunning $84,000. While there are no examples of this date in the “JBR” set, it would be interesting to see what a second MS61–or even an MS62–would bring if it exists.
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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 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.