By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com ……
CoinWeek Content Partner ……
A total of 22 different quarter eagles were struck from 1854 through 1879. With the exception of one issue (the 1854-S) this is a completable series, although as we see below there are a number of these issues which are rare in Uncirculated.
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San Francisco quarter eagles are less popular than they ought to be, especially when one considers how much more popular this denomination is with collectors than it was, say, a decade ago. I believe this situation will change in the coming years as this is a really fun series to collect and a reasonably completable one, assuming one ignores the excessively rare 1854-S.
What follows is a date-by-date analysis of this series with a particular focus on rarity and appearance. Each issue is ranked according to its overall and high-grade rarity as well.
1854-S $2.50 PCGS VF35. Images courtesy Douglas Winter Numismatics (DWN)
With a mintage of just 246, this issue has the third-lowest mintage of any US coin made for circulation. There are around a dozen known with the finest grading AU50 at PCGS (and AU53 at NGC). This issue should be regarded as a Classic Rarity, and while well-regarded by specialists it isn’t terribly well-regarded by the collecting public at large.
Part of what holds down the price of this coin is that at least half of the known examples grade VF or lower. This means that the typical big-money collector is not going to be attracted to this issue (despite its rarity) due to the fact that it is small and most survivors are not visually appealing. This is certainly not an inexpensive coin (the most recent APR is $264,000 in April 2018 for a PCGS VF35; interestingly, the very same coin had sold for $282,000 in November 2013) but if it were in nearly any other series, it would sell for twice as much.
The 1854-S is a personal favorite of mine and I have handled five different examples of this date. I hesitate to call a $250,000+ issue “overlooked” but this is, I believe, the single most undervalued Classic Rarity in all of the various Liberty Head series.
- OVERALL RARITY: 1st of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 1st of 22
1856-S $2.50 PCGS MS63 CAC, From SS Central America
After a one-year hiatus, production of quarter eagles resumed at the San Francisco Mint in 1856. This is among the more available San Francisco quarter eagles and recoveries from the two SS Central America salvage operations has provided collectors with a number of nice Uncirculated pieces. The second and most recent group yielded 19 in Uncirculated including an MS66. The single finest is a remarkable PCGS MS67 from the first salvage; it last sold for $85,188 in September 2015 after its original auction sale of $46,000 in December 2000.
Non-shipwreck 1856-S quarter eagles are also available in higher grades. This is a well-struck issue, among the best made early San Francisco gold coins of any denomination. The luster is very frosty with a small number known that are somewhat reflective. The natural coloration is a rich yellow and orange-gold. It should be reasonably easy to locate a nice Uncirculated 1856-S, and a non-shipwreck PCGS MS62 will cost around $6,000-7,000 when available.
- OVERALL RARITY: 17th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 19th of 22
1857-S $2.50 PCGS MS62 CAC
The 1857-S is the most common issue in this set until the high-mintage 1877-S and 1878-S. Part of this is due to the large mintage of 69,200, but part is also due to the two SS Central America recoveries. The most recent of these yielded 22 Uncirculated 1857-S quarter eagles with the best grading MS64+ at PCGS. The 1857-S is more available than the 1856-S in terms of numbers known in Uncirculated, but there are a number of superb pieces known while there are no Gem 1857-S examples.
This is another well-struck issue. Non-shipwreck pieces are frosty with nice orange-gold and yellow-gold hues. Most Uncirculated 1857-S quarter eagles grade no finer than MS62 due to mishandling, and many have been dipped or processed. A properly graded PCGS MS61 is likely to cost less than $6,000 if available.
- OVERALL RARITY: 20th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 20th of 22
1859-S $2.50 NGC MS63 CAC
No quarter eagles were made at San Francisco in 1858, and the mintage in 1859 was a reasonably small 15,200. This overlooked issue is among the scarcer quarter eagles from this facility, with fewer than 100 known in all grades. This date is rare in Uncirculated, although not as much as some experts have written. I estimate that around 10 exist, including a single Gem graded MS65 by PCGS.
The 1859-S is not as well-struck as the 1856-S or 1857-S quarter eagles. Most examples are weak on the eagle’s right leg and inner wing. Higher-grade pieces may show excellent luster but the typical coin has been cleaned and shows hairlines in the fields. The natural color is a very rich yellow-gold. Most have been cleaned, and an original 1859-S with good color and choice surfaces is worth a strong premium over a typical example.
- OVERALL RARITY: 5th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 12th of 22
1860-S $2.50 PCGS AU58 CAC
The mintage of the 1860-S is more than double that of the 1859-S, but this is a scarce date in its own right with an estimated 100 to 125 known. The 1860-S is very similar in high-grade rarity to the 1859-S with around 10 known. The finest I am aware of is a PCGS MS64, which sold for $25,300 as Heritage 2011 FUN; 5030. Another MS64 has supposedly been graded by PCGS but I am not aware of this piece.
Every 1860-S I have seen is weakly struck on the eagle’s right leg and the inner right wing. There are very few known that have natural color and choice surfaces. The natural color is a rich yellow-gold, and most 1860-S quarter eagles have been dipped or processed. This is actually a really rare issue with good eye appeal, and a nice CAC-approved piece in AU55 or finer is an excellent value at current levels. A choice PCGS AU58 is still priced at less than $2,000, and an MS62 is still available at less than $7,000.
- OVERALL RARITY: 7th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 9th of 22
1861-S $2.50 NGC EF45 CAC
This is one of my personal favorite dates in the series. There are fewer than 100 known, and the 1861-S is the rarest collectible San Francisco quarter eagle in Uncirculated. I am aware of just two that are unquestionably Uncirculated: a PCGS MS62+ (also graded MS62 by PCGS) that I bought for $25,300 as Heritage 2011 ANA: 7457, and an NGC MS61 that sold for $15,600 in Heritage’s 2018 ANA.
This date comes better-struck than the 1859-S and 1860-S and it tends not to be as weak at the reverse center. Most known have impaired luster from having been cleaned and only a small number show original color, which tends to be a medium reddish-gold. The 1861-S is a very difficult issue to locate choice and original, and even lower grade pieces that are nice deserve to sell for a strong premium.
- OVERALL RARITY: 4th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 2nd of 22
1862-S $2.50 PCGS AU58 CAC
The 1862-S is a rare issue in all grades with an estimated 75-85 known from a mintage of just 8,000; the third-lowest figure for any San Francisco quarter eagle (after the extremely rare 1854-S and the 1876-S). There are probably not more than three or four known in Uncirculated. The finest is the PCGS MS63 I bought for $43,700 as Goldberg 2/12: 1217; the second finest is the Bass PCGS MS62, which resold in the Heritage 2014 FUN auction.
The 1862-S is always seen with weakness of strike at the eagle’s right leg and the inner right wing. This issue has good luster which is always frosty in texture and the natural color ranges from a deep green-gold to a lighter orange-gold and rose. Very few original 1862-S quarter eagles exist and even an Extremely Fine which is choice and original sells for a sizable premium over a typical bright, processed example. I regard this as the third-rarest Civil War date from this mint (after the 1863-S), but it is just a hair more available in high grades than the 1861-S and the 1862-S.
- OVERALL RARITY: 3rd of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 5th of 22
1863-S $2.50 NGC MS61
With the 1863 Philadelphia known only in Proof format, the 1863-S is the only available quarter eagle from this fabled Civil War year. I regard it as the second-rarest San Francisco issue after the 1854-S, and it is a truly rare issue in Uncirculated with three known. The finest (by a mile) is the Eliasberg coin, which grades MS64+ and sold for $50,600 in April 2006. The next best is a PCGS MS61 owned by a Western specialist.
The quality of strike on this date varies from coin to coin. Some 1863-S quarter eagles are well-struck while others are weak on the eagle’s right leg. This date seems a little easier to find with original surfaces than the 1862-S, but there are still very few available. All the Civil War San Francisco quarter eagles are popular but remain good values compared to the half eagles and eagles of this era.
- OVERALL RARITY: 2nd of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 4th of 22
1865-S $2.50 PCGS AU50 CAC
After a one-year hiatus, the coinage of San Francisco quarter eagles resumed in 1865. This is a fairly scarce issue, comparable to the 1860-S in terms of overall rarity and just a bit less rare in Uncirculated than the three preceding Civil War issues. There are an estimated seven or eight in Uncirculated – with the finest a single PCGS MS64 from the Bass Collection that has not reappeared since it realized $20,700 in November 2000.
The strike varies on this date with most showing significant weakness on the right leg of the eagle and on the inner right wing. However, there are some pieces known which are sharper on these details. Most 1865-S quarter eagles have frosty luster, but this is often marred by past cleanings and original pieces are rare. The natural color tends to be a dusky green-gold, with a few pieces more reddish-gold or orange in hue. This date remains very reasonably priced in circulated grades but Uncirculated 1865-S quarter eagles appear to have caught the fancy of collectors.
- OVERALL RARITY: 6th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 6th of 22
1866-S $2.50 PCGS MS61 CAC
The 1866-S is an unusual date in terms of its overall rarity versus its high-grade rarity. It is only moderately scarce overall with as many as 175 to 225 known, but it is extremely rare in Uncirculated with only four or five known. The finest is a single PCGS MS62, which realized $16,450 as Heritage 2014 FUN. The remaining Uncirculated examples grade MS61 and only one or two of these are choice.
This date tends to be fairly well-struck but very few show natural color or have choice surfaces. A majority have been cleaned and even an About Uncirculated 1866-S with good eye appeal is rare and much undervalued. This date is a favorite of mine.
- OVERALL RARITY: 18th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 3rd of 22
1867-S $2.50 PCGS MS61 CAC
The 1867-S is moderately scarce overall with an estimated 150 to 175 known, mostly in the EF45 to AU55 range. Fewer than 10 Uncirculated coins exist, with nearly all in MS62 or lower. The two finest known are the Bass MS63 (which sold for just $9,487 in October 1999), and a PCGS MS64, which last sold for $12,650 in 2001.
This date is almost always weak on the eagle’s right leg and the central obverse often is not fully struck. The luster tends to be grainy on this issue, unlike on the earlier dates from this decade that have a pillowy, frostier texture. The color is usually a light green-gold but uncleaned pieces are a deeper green-gold and russet. This is an undervalued and underappreciated date.
- OVERALL RARITY: 12th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 13th of 22
1868-S $2.50 PCGS MS62 CAC
The 1868-S is a bit more available than the 1867-S and it is also a bit more available in higher grades. Nevertheless, this is still a rare date in Uncirculated with around a dozen known, mostly in MS62 or lower. The finest known are a pair of MS64s at PCGS.
A number of 1868-S quarter eagles show incomplete strikes at the upper obverse and the corresponding reverse (see Heritage 2014 FUN: 6462). This is Mint-made and it doesn’t impact the grading. Most are also weak on the eagle’s right leg.
- OVERALL RARITY: 13th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 13th of 22
1869-S $2.50 PCGS AU58 CAC
The 1869-S is the most common San Francisco quarter eagle produced prior to 1872. It is rarer in Uncirculated than generally acknowledged with likely no more than a dozen or so known. The finest known by a large margin is a magnificent PCGS MS66, which sold in 2003 for $25,300. After this comes a group of two or three in the MS63 to MS64 range.
Most 1869-S quarter eagles are weak on the eagle’s right leg and the inner right wing. The luster is frosty and well above average while the natural color is a rich russet and rose-gold. There are not many known with nice natural color. Properly graded AU58s can still be obtained for $1,250 to $1,500–a remarkable value for a coin as scarce as this. Expect to pay $3,000-4,000 for a presentable Uncirculated example.
- OVERALL RARITY: 16th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 16th of 22
1870-S $2.50 PCGS MS63
I regard the 1870-S as one of the true sleepers in the San Francisco quarter eagle series. It is genuinely rare in Uncirculated with fewer than 10 known and only two or three grade MS63 or finer. The single-highest graded is a PCGS MS64. This date saw extensive circulation and it wasn’t saved in higher grades as were some of the issues from this decade.
The 1870-S is a decently struck issue with good overall details seen at the centers. The luster on higher-grade pieces is excellent and the natural color is a rich rose and orange-gold. Most 1870-S quarter eagles have been cleaned, and choice original coins are much rarer than supposed. You’ll have to wait a number of years for the shot at owning an Uncirculated piece but if you are offered a nice one at a fair price, grab it.
- OVERALL RARITY: 10th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 11th of 22
1871-S $2.50 NGC MS64 CAC, EX COL. GREEN
The 1871-S is similar to the 1867-S and the 1868-S in terms of its overall rarity but it is more available in Uncirculated. There appears to have been a small hoard of Uncirculated pieces as there are some higher quality pieces known with a similar appearance. There are as many as 15-20 in Uncirculated including three Gems: two PCGS MS65s and a PCGS MS66 which brought $20,125 in 2005.
This date is always weak on the eagle’s right leg and the inner right wing. It has the nicest luster seen on nearly any date from this mint with thick frost. The natural color is a rich yellow-gold with rose and green-gold undertones.
- OVERALL RARITY: 11th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 15th of 22
1872-S $2.50 PCGS AU58 CAC
The 1872-S is similar in overall rarity to the 1856-S and the 1869-S. It is a much rarer coin than these two issues in Uncirculated with around 10 known. The finest known are a small group of coins grading MS63 to MS64 with no one coin standing out as being the clear winner.
This is a better-struck issue than some of the other S-mint quarter eagles of this era although many show weakness at the eagle’s right leg. The luster is grainy in texture and different in appearance than on the 1871-S or the 1873-S. The natural color tends to be a bright yellow-gold. If one is available, a nice quality Uncirculated 1872-S is still very reasonably priced. This is even more so with AU58s as these are currently valued at less than $1,500.
- OVERALL RARITY: 15th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 7th of 22
1873-S $2.50 PCGS MS64
This is among the most common San Francisco quarter eagles in terms of overall rarity. It is rare in Uncirculated with an estimated 15+ known but most are in the lower Mint State grades. The single-finest known is a lovely PCGS MS65 that sold for $24,675 in 2016. There are another two or three that grade MS64 and a small number of MS63s.
The 1873-S is reasonably well-struck and higher grade coins show excellent frosty luster. The typically seen color is a medium to deep orange-gold, but most have been dipped and are a bright yellow-gold as a result.
- OVERALL RARITY: 19th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 17th of 22
1875-S $2.50 PCGS MS63 CAC
After a one-year hiatus, production of San Francisco quarter eagles resumed in 1875. This is a low-mintage issue (11,600 were made) that I regard as a real sleeper in the series. The finest known is a sole PCGS MS65 that has never appeared at auction. There is a small group of MS63s, while the other Uncirculated coins grade MS62 and lower.
The strike seen on this date varies with most showing softness at the centers but there are some well-defined 1875-S quarter eagles. The luster is soft and slightly grainy while the color is a medium green-gold or sometimes orange-gold. This is a vastly underpriced issue with nice MS62 examples still available at around $5,000.
- OVERALL RARITY: 9th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 8th of 22
1876-S $2.50 PCGS MS62 CAC
With just 5,000 struck, the 1876-S has the lowest mintage of any collectible San Francisco quarter eagle and the second-lowest after the 1854-S. This date is less rare than one might expect as a hoard exists. As many as 15 to 20 are known in Uncirculated, but nearly all are in the MS61 to MS62 range and this date is very rare in MS63. The single-finest piece currently known is a PCGS MS64, which brought $22,800 in 2018.
All known 1876-S quarter eagles show a mint-made raised bar on Liberty’s neck, which is also seen on 1876 Philadelphia quarter eagles. This is a softly struck issue that shows weakness at the centers but the luster is good with a frosty texture. The natural color is a rich yellow-gold. The population figure of “12” graded MS62 by PCGS seems inflated as only two have traded since 2009 with the last auction sale recorded in 2012.
- OVERALL RARITY: 8th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 18th of 22
1877-S $2.50 NGC MS62
The 1877-S is the second-most-available San Francisco quarter eagle after the 1878-S. It is common in grades through MS62 and only moderately scarce in MS63. However, this date is very scarce in properly graded MS64 and extremely rare in MS65. I have never seen a Gem and the last PCGS MS65 to sell at auction was all the way back in 2003.
This is a well-struck issue with good luster, but surface abrasions are a problem on most 1877-S quarter eagles.
- OVERALL RARITY: 21st of 22
- HIGH GRADE RARITY: 21st of 22
1878-S $2.50 PCGS MS64 CAC
With a comparably large mintage of 286,240, one would expect this to be the most common quarter eagle from San Francisco. The 1878-S is common even in MS65, and there are a few known finer, with the best available quality being MS67 of which there are two or three.
This is a well-struck issue with excellent luster. It is still possible to locate nice Uncirculated coins with natural color.
- OVERALL RARITY: 22nd of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 22nd of 22
1879-S $2.50 PCGS MS64+ CAC
This is the final San Francisco quarter eagle and it is a much scarcer date than generally acknowledged. At one time another dealer and I hoarded 1879-S quarter eagles and we had over 50 (graded AU53 to MS63) before we sold them. This is a scarce and underappreciated date in Uncirculated with fewer than 20 known. The finest is a PCGS/CAC MS64+ which brought $20,001 in 2014. There is also a single PCGS/CAC MS64 which sold twice in 2014.
This is a very well-struck issue with luster that ranges from frosty to semi-prooflike. This issue and the 1878-S are the only two San Francisco quarter eagles that use the Type Two reverse hub of 1859-1907 and, as such, they are a distinct type.
- OVERALL RARITY: 14th of 22
- HIGH-GRADE RARITY: 14th of 22
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The San Francisco quarter eagle series presents the collector with a challenging but completable goal with all coins available for less than $7,500, except for the exceedingly rare 1854-S. It is a set that I strongly recommend.
The next segment of this multiple part series is scheduled for September 2019 and it will focus on the short-lived but very interesting Three Dollar gold pieces.
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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.