Doug Winter: The following information is from my eBook on Type One Liberty Head Double Eagles at http://doubleeaglebook.com/
Until the discovery of the S.S. Central America and thousands of high quality 1857-S double eagles, the 1861 was by far the most plentiful Type One issue. This is primarily due to the fact that its mintage figure was the highest for this denomination until 1904.
STRIKE: The 1861 double eagle is a well-struck issue. Some coins have weakness in the hair but the detail is still considerably sharper than what is seen on the San Francisco issues of this era. The reverse is also well detailed with the only weakness occurring on the wing tips and the tail feathers.
SURFACES: It is easier to locate an 1861 with clean, choice surfaces than just about any other date of this type. While many coins do show the deep, detracting marks so typical to Type One issues, there are a number of coins with very acceptable surfaces.
LUSTER: The luster on this issue tends to be well above average. Higher grade pieces can show attractive soft, satiny mint bloom or rich frost; both of which can be quite attractive. There are also a number of 1861 double eagles which are either semi-prooflike or even fully prooflike. These tend to be excessively abraded and do not have good eye appeal as a result.
COLORATION: The natural coloration of this issue shows great variation. Some have rich rose and green-gold color, while others have a medium to deep yellow-gold. There are a good number which have their full original color, and the collector should be able to locate such a coin with relative ease.
EYE APPEAL: There are more attractive 1861 double eagles known than any other non-shipwreck issue in the Type One series. Without much searching, the fussy collector should be able to find a choice, CAC-quality example. These typically bring around a 10% premium over an average quality example.
INTERESTING VARIETIES: 1861 double eagles are known with light and heavy dates. There are also a number of minor positional varieties. A small number show light repunching within the top loop of the 8.
PROOFS: Most of the 66 Proofs that were struck were unsold and later melted. This is among the rarest collectible Liberty Head double eagles in Proof and as few as five are believed to exist. A roster is as follows:
1. Simpson Collection, ex dealer intermediaries, ANR 8/06: 1618 ($483,000). Graded PR66DCAM by PCGS, earlier graded PR67DCAM by NGC.
2. Bowers and Merena 10/99: 1741 ($92,000; as PCGS PR64), ex Harry Bass collection, Paramount Auction ’84: 965, Wolfson, Atwater. Graded PR65CAM by NGC.
3. Trompeter collection, ex Stack’s 1/84: 861 ($46,750), Amon Carter collection. Graded PR63 by NGC.
4. Smithsonian collection.
5. ANS collection.
The auction record for a Proof 1861 double eagle is $483,000 and it is cited in the description of coin #1, above.
HOARDS: A total of 305 were found on the S.S. Republic including 200 in Uncirculated. Groups of 1861 double eagles are still being found in Europe and this includes the occasional Choice Uncirculated example.
BUYING TIPS: If you can’t find a great looking 1861, you need to find a new source for your Type One double eagles. This is still an easy coin to locate in higher grades with really good eye appeal although totally original pieces become harder to find every year.
AUCTION RECORD: The auction record for a business strike 1861 double eagle is $352,000 which was set by a PCGS MS67 last sold as Stacks Bowers 7/13: 4585. This coin has an interesting—and checkered—past history.
I first saw it as Superior 10/89: 5039 where it sold for $181,500. It soon after sold for $170,500 as RARCOA Auction ’90: 975. It next sold as Superior 5/91: where it sold for a paltry $68,750. It next sold as Heritage 1995 ANA: 7947 for $96,000. In the ensuing years, it traded via private treaty at least two or three times. It is clearly the finest non-shipwreck regular issue Type One double eagle in existence.
FINEST KNOWN: As I just discussed in detail, the finest known is a famous PCGS MS67 which was graded by PCGS back in 1987 or 1988 and has long been regarded as the single finest known non-shipwreck business strike Type One.
TOTAL KNOWN: 6000-7000+
Very Fine: 3400-600
Extremely Fine: 1600-1700
About Uncirculated: 3600-4200
POPULATION FIGURES: As of the beginning of 2015, PCGS had graded 261 in Uncirculated. This includes 11 in MS64, 4 in MS65 and 1 in MS67. NGC has graded 506 in Uncirculated including 182 from the S.S. Republic. The highest graded at this service include 23 in MS64, 7 in MS65 and 1 in MS66. The population figures for this date in all grades from MS60 to MS64 are severely inflated by resubmissions. CAC has approved 14 in MS60, 15 in MS61, 9 in MS62, 4 in MS63, 2 in MS64, and a lone example in MS67 for a total of 45 Uncirculated examples with CAC approval.
PERFORMANCE SINCE 2002: In the current market, a choice About Uncirculated example of this date (equivalent to an AU55) has a value of $2,750 to $3,500. In 2002, the same coin would have been worth $700-900. A nice Uncirculated example of this date (equivalent to MS62) has a current market value of $9,000-11,000. In 2002, the same coin would have been worth $4,000-5,000.
COMMENTS: During their last few years, demand for this date has been partly fueled by Civil War collectors who need a nice 1861 for their set. This has been especially true for high end About Uncirculated coins and Mint State coins in the 60-62 range.David Akers (1975/88): This date is the most common Type I Double Eagle and is far and away the easiest to obtain in uncirculated condition. Choice and gem uncs are only moderately scarce and I have seen a sizable number of such pieces as well as some truly superb specimens.
Elliot Landau - New Netherlands Coin Co. #52 12/1958 - Superior 10/1989:5039, $181,500 - RARCOA “Auction ‘90” 8/1990:975, $170,500 - Stack's/Bowers 8/2013:4585, $352,500