By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com
CoinWeek Content Partner and Contributor
In the third installment of this multi-part article, I’m going to delve into a series that has its share of issues that are not often seen with good eye appeal: three dollar gold. As a series, there are not many individual issues that are rare from an absolute sense. But I can think of a number of issues that are hard to find with a good overall appearance.
I. 1854-O and 1854-D:
These two issues are inexorably linked due to their status as the only three dollar gold pieces made at southern branch mints. The first is a common coin in nearly all circulated grades with a relatively high mintage figure of 24,000. The latter is regarded as among the rarest issues in the series with only 1,120 produced.
The 1854-O has a reputation among collectors as a condition rarity. There are hundreds and hundreds of pieces known in the VF-EF range and even a decent quantity in the lower AU grades. It becomes rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and it remains a very rare issue in Uncirculated with probably no more than five or six known.
But of the hundreds and hundreds of examples known, very few have good eye appeal. This is for a number of reasons. The first has to do with the fact that most 1854-O threes are struck from a late state of the dies that show lapping and re-polishing. This has removed some detail and made the reverse appear to be weakly struck, even on higher grade coins. In addition, the vast majority of 1854-O threes have been cleaned or dipped. It is possible to find a reasonably nice, original EF40 to EF45 example but choice, natural AU coins are quite scarce.
The 1854-D is another issue that is not well made. While this might add to the charm of the issue, it also makes it frustrating for collectors who seek well-detailed, “fresh” appearing coins. This is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of surviving 1854-D threes have been cleaned or dipped and many have been repaired or subtly altered as well. My best estimate is that out of the 125 or so examples that exist, less than 10% are “original” in the strict sense of the word. These coins should command a significant premium versus the typical quality for the issue. In my opinion, a choice, original 1854-D three dollar gold piece with good color and choice surfaces should command at least a 20% premium.
2. 1855-S and 1860-S:
With the exception of the 1856-S, none of the San Francisco three dollar gold pieces are frequently encountered with good eye appeal. This is due to a number of factors. The first is that none of these issues had especially high original mintage figures and the survival rate is low. Secondly, these issues were used in commerce in Gold Rush era San Francisco and as a result were not handled with care. A lack of collector interest meant, of course, that there was no one around to save coins and even the usual “save a few for souvenirs” scenario doesn’t apply to them.
The 1855-S is comparable to the 1854-D from the standpoint of overall rarity. It is extremely scarce in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and extremely rare in Uncirculated. I think that no more than three or four Uncirculated examples are known. The finest appears to be the PCGS MS62 in the Great Lakes collection; the second is the ex Pittman 2: 1889 coin, graded MS61, in the South Texas collection. Despite the rarity of this date with good eye appeal, it is surprisingly affordable. I have sold two nice EF examples this year for around $3,000.
The 1860-S is an interesting issue for a number of reasons. It is the last obtainable three dollar gold pieces from this mint and it is rarer than the original mintage figure of 7,000 suggests; it is believed that as many as 2,592 were found to be underweight and later melted. I believe that only 100-125 are known today and examples with original color and surfaces are really hard to find.
The 1860-S is actually a tiny bit more available than the 1855-S in Uncirculated with as many as five or six known. The best of these include Eliasberg: 285, Bass II: 672 (graded MS62 by PCGS) and the Great Lakes coin which is in a PCGS MS61 holder. Most of the AU coins that I have seen are bright, heavily abraded and not appealing. The few Choice AU’s that have sold in recent years have not realized significant premiums over typical examples and the savvy collector should consider this the next time he sees a pleasing 1860-S three dollar gold piece.
3. 1865 and 1877:
One of the things about collecting this denomination is that the Philadelphia issues tend to be well made and they are generally available in relatively high grades. But there are clearly a few issues that are not only rare from the standpoint of total known but which are seldom seen with good eye appeal. In my experience, the two that stand out are the 1865 and the 1877.
The 1865 has a tiny mintage of 1,140 and it is likely that not more than 75-100 are known. This date tends to come two ways: really nice or really not nice. The finest known is a superb NGC MS67* from the Jewell Collection that sold for $57,500 in May 2005. Two PCGS MS66′s exist as well. The five or six Gem 1865 three dollar gold pieces have great color, luster and eye appeal and are among the nicest Civil War era gold coins of any denomination. But these are locked away in tightly-held collections and the typical example is apt to grade EF45 to AU55 with very abraded semi-prooflike surfaces and clear signs of recent cleanings and/or processing.
The 1877 also has a small mintage; just 1,468 in this case. It is a bit more available than the 1865 in terms of overall rarity but it is harder to find in high grades. The finest known is a PCGS MS64 in the Great Lakes collection that is ex Heritage 6/11: 4602 at $80,500; it was earlier ex Bass II: 696 where it went reasonably in 1999 for $32,000. This is the only really choice 1877 three dollar gold piece known. There are an additional five or six coins in the MS60 to MS62 range This date is generally seen with prooflike surfaces that are very abraded and frequently show hairlines from mishandling.
There are other dates that I certainly could have added to this list. The 1858, 1867 and 1869 are three issues that are seldom found with good eye appeal. And the 1873 Closed 3 is an extremely hard date to find in any grade, let alone with natural color and surfaces.
For more information on three dollar gold pieces that are seldom seen with good eye appeal, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.