The Coin Analyst: Extremely Rare 1870-S $3 Gold Coin To Be Auctioned on June 2 in Georgia – Real or Fake?

by Louis Golino for CoinWeek

Update: It appears that this item has been removed from the auction

The 1870-S $3.00 gold coin is one of the great rarities of American numismatics. It is/was until recently believed that only one such coin existed and that it was struck to be placed in the cornerstone of the U.S. Mint building in San Francisco.

But according to a report by Fox News online , an auction company in Alpharetta, Georgia has another specimen of the coin which was apparently discovered embedded in a souvenir book at a bookstore in San Francisco (see image below). It is to be auctioned off on June 2.

Steve White, who is the owner of the Four Seasons Auction Co., says that the coin is one of two or three specimens of this rare gold coin. He estimates that it will sell for up to $4 million.

He also invited interested parties to see the coin in person and according to the Fox story, "bring an independent expert to authenticate the piece."

The coin has not been graded or authenticated by any of the recognized Third Party Grading services such as PCGS, NGC or ANACS, which is highly unusual for such a rare coin, especially one which is believed to be either unique or one of only two or three such coins.

Editors Note: We have had multiple numismatic experts contact CoinWeek expressing their opinion that while the story is interesting, they do not believe the coin is authentic. Potential bidders would be well advised to seek the guidance of a US Gold expert to examine the coin.

According to PCGS’s Coin Facts web site , the 1870-S coin is unique and was last purchased in October 1982 by dealer, Harry W. Bass, who paid $687,500 for the coin. The Bass coin is on display at the American Numismatic Association’s museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado and is considered to be the centerpiece of that remarkable collection. Many other coins from the Bass collection have been sold, but not the 1870-S $3 gold piece.

That coin was previously owned by the most famous American coin collector of all time, Baltimore, Maryland banker Louis Eliasberg, the only person who has ever assembled a complete collection of every U.S. coin ever issued. The 1982 sale was part of the Bowers Ruddy auction of Mr. Eliasberg’s amazing collection, which took place over a period of years.

Mr. Eliasberg purchased his coin in 1946 for $11,500 from the Celina Coin Co. in a sale that was brokered by Stack’s, which is now headed by Q. David Bowers.

That coin, which grades extra fine 40, has a pedigree that dates to a 1911 sale from the collection of William H. Woodin, who later served as U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. When the Woodin coin was sold, it included a note stating that it was a duplicate of the coin made to be included in the San Francisco mint’s cornerstone.

The coin was at one point used in jewelry and had a suspension loop was added to the top edge of the coin, according to Jeff Garrett, a leading numismatic researcher. It also has the numbers 893 that were scratched on the reverse side of the coin, according to PCGS.

It was later sold by Thomas Elder and owned by Waldo Newcomer. B. Max Mehl, perhaps the most famous coin dealer of the first half of the 20th century, sold the Newcomer collection on a consignment basis.

In spite of the announcement of the sale of the specimen in Georgia it is believed that either one or two such coins existed. PCGS suggests that the Bass coin is the same coin that was struck to be part of the San Francisco Mint’s cornerstone.

But Jeff Garrett in his Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins, 1795-1933 (published in 2008 by Whitman Publishing) says that the cornerstone coin is a second example that is rumored to exist but that it has never been found.

The 1870-S coin is also included in Mr. Garrett’s popular book, The 100 Greatest U.S. Coins (third edition published in 2008 by Whitman Publishing). As Mr. Garrett explains in his book, the coin has an interesting and unusual history. The die for this coin was struck at the Philadelphia mint and the “S” mintmark was later added by hand by coiner, J.B. Harmstead. The dies for each of the branch mint coins were made in Philadelphia, and mintmarks for the branch mints were supposed to be added before the coins were sent to the other mints.

Discovered embedded in a souvenir book in SF

However, somehow the San Francisco die for this coin arrived in California without the proper mintmark, which is why it was later added by Mr. Harmstead. The “S” mintmark on the coin is very different from “S” mintmarks which appear on other gold coins of the time, which helps support the idea that it was made by hand.

If the coin that is to be sold in June is indeed authentic and is not the example that was made for the San Francisco mint’s cornerstone, that would seem to suggest that three specimens exist of this coin.

Numismatic researchers and potential buyers will no doubt be eager to determine the origins and authenticity of the Georgia coin.

Mr. Garrett’s book stresses how this particular coin has a rather murky history, which makes claims of the discovery of an apparent third example both intriguing and suspect.

Louis Golino - WriterLouis Golino is a coin collector and numismatic writer, whose articles on coins have appeared in Coin World, Numismatic News, and a number of different coin web sites. His column for CoinWeek, “The Coin Analyst,” covers U.S. and world coins and precious metals. He collects U.S. and European coins and is a member of the ANA, PCGS, NGC, and CAC. He has also worked for the U.S. Library of Congress and has been a syndicated columnist and news analyst on international affairs for a wide variety of newspapers and web sites.

12 Comments on "The Coin Analyst: Extremely Rare 1870-S $3 Gold Coin To Be Auctioned on June 2 in Georgia – Real or Fake?"

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  1. saul teichman says:

    the reverse is not the same die as the Bass coin. The date placement is different. On the “new” example here, the tail of the 7 is over a highpoint on the ribbon. On the Bass coin, it is to the left of that.

  2. Louis Golino says:

    Thanks, Saul. It would also be helpful to know if numismatic researchers ever determined whether the Bass coin is indeed unique, or if there are two examples. The likelihood that a third example would surface that no one had heard of previously does seem very low.

  3. Louis Golino says:

    When you see them side by side above, there are obvious differences in the size and type of fonts used in dollars, 1870, and the mint mark. Even the 3 in the GA coin is thicker.

  4. Charles says:

    Was this coin monetized? For the coin to be hidden in a book like this, makes me think, were it real, it would have been illegally carried out of the mint by an employee…. if, that is, it’s even real.

  5. Jacob Stoole says:

    not genuine!

  6. CoinWeek says:

    As mentioned in the Article with our Editors Note, Coinweek has been in contact with a number of the leading US coin experts, and universally the GA auction coin is considered to be a counterfeit.

    We posted a side by side view of the reverse at the end of the article, and as Saul and other have pointed out, the diagnostics on the genuine Bass example do not match up with this other coin.

    We are in the process of contacted the auction house to see if we can get more of the back story on this coins, where it cam from and who the consigner was, since as presented, it appears the story about having found the coin in an old souvenir book an a San Francisco Bookstore seems overly detailed. We will keep the numismatic community posted on what we find out

  7. CoinWeek says:

    BTW, The coin is NO Longer listed on the auction Company site and appears to have been Withdrawn

  8. Jon says:

    The “0” in 1870 stands out; it would be interesting to compare this coin’s die characteristics with that of other Philadelphia or San Francisco $3s from the 1870s. I agree that the reverse dies are different and that the authenticity of this coin is questionable. It looks like someone some time ago seeded this coin into the book to be found later, a prank from someone long gone.

  9. Yes, I heard from coin auction house and they have withdrawn the coin. Definitely not real.

    Ian Russell
    GreatCollections Coin Auctions

  10. Louis Golino says:

    Many sources are now reporting that Steve White, the head of the GA auction company, says the coin is in the process of being authenticated and that it will be offered for sale later. So there still may be more to this story. Thanks to everyone who weighed in.

  11. John Beavers says:

    I came into possession of a 3 dollar 1870 coin like this. It is really rough. Did they make imitation coins? Surely it is not the real thing.


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