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Analyzing the Market for High-Grade Type 1 Liberty Double Eagles Based on Hendricks Sale Prices

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The recent Stack’s Bowers Galleries Spring 2022 Showcase Auction of the Hendricks Set of United States Gold Coins from the Fairmont Collection contained an impressive run of high-grade Type 1 Liberty Head Double Eagles. This included a strong run of dates for which the Hendricks example was ranked quite high in the Condition Census for the issue.

Before we delve into the specific coins that I think are especially interesting, let’s spend a moment taking a quick dive into the high-grade Type One market. (High grade means different things for each issue in the Type 1 series: for an 1855-O, high grade means AU53 to AU55; for an 1864-S, high grade refers to MS62+ to MS63.)

From 2000 to around 2017, the Type 1 $20 market saw unprecedented upward growth in both demand and prices. This was true for both rarities and common dates in virtually all grade ranges. Then beginning in 2016, the market became oversaturated with coins that had been located overseas in bank hoards. These have been marketed on a large scale under various names (“Granite Lady” and “Eureka” as well as “Fairmont”). Many collectors (and dealers!) became apprehensive to purchase a coin such as an 1858 $20 in AU58, not knowing if the number of coins that would become available was five or 50.

Turn the clock forward to April 2022, and I believe we saw the majority of the high-grade Type 1 issues from Fairmont. Yes, it is likely that there are other Uncirculated 1858 Double Eagles in the sale queue, but my gut instinct tells me that the exceptional PCGS MS63 (Lot 5382) that I purchased for $60,000 is the single best example of this date from Fairmont — and that the next best is likely to grade at least one full point lower – if not more.

Let’s begin with the 1851-O $20, which was graded PCGS MS61 and realized $50,400 – a figure that initially seems like a very strong price until you realize that there are no other price reports for this date in PCGS MS61, and that a PCGS MS61 1852-O (a very good comparable) sold for $40,800 in March 2021. Speaking of the 1852-O, the Hendricks coin was a solid PCGS AU58 that sold for $19,200. The most recent data for this date in this grade was $16,450 in July 2021 and another coin brought $15,863 in May 2020.

1851-O Liberty Head Double Eagle, PCGS MS61. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.
1853/“2” Liberty Head Double Eagle, PCGS MS62. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

A coin that I thought sold under market value in the sale was Lot 5368, the 1853/”2,” which realized $28,800. This was the nicest example of this variety that I’ve ever seen, but this variety has fallen out of favor as collectors have concluded (rightfully so) that this is a “fauxverdate.” I was surprised that I was able to purchase both the PCGS MS62 1854 Large Date and the PCGS 1854-S for less than my maximum bids. The former (Lot 5372) is tied with one other coin as the third-finest known and a very heavily abraded PCGS MS61 sold for $24,000 in June 2018. I paid $43,200 for this high-end piece.

The 1854-S (Lot 5373) was among my favorite coins in the entire sale. It is the single best non-shipwreck example of this date and I paid $40,800 for it. As a basis of comparison, an MS62 graded by PCGS sold for $36,000 in April 2018.

In June 2018, I purchased a nice PCGS MS60 1857-O with a Fairmont pedigree for $78,000. Imagine my “surprise” when I saw Lot 5380 in the Hendricks sale: the same date in PCGS MS61. This example brought $114,000, which is a strong price in my opinion.

Another coin I was able to purchase for well under my maximum bid was Lot 5385, the 1859 in PCGS MS62. This is the single-rarest Philadelphia Type 1 issue in Uncirculated (not including, of course, the excessively rare 1861 Paquet) and the Hendricks coin was tied for the single-finest known. Luckily, the other one is owned by Dell Loy Hansen, which meant I wouldn’t have to battle him to own this coin. This likely saved me $30,000 to $40,000+, and I paid $72,000 for it instead of the six-figure price I was prepared to pay.

One of the best deals in the sale was Lot 5386, an 1859-O graded PCGS AU53. It was totally natural in appearance and extremely rare as such. The coin sold for $55,200, and the only other report of one sold since 2004 was $66,000 which was achieved in June 2018 by another Fairmont example.

1859-O Liberty Head Double Eagle, PCGS AU53. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

A coin whose record-smashing price surprised me was Lot 5387, the finest known 1859-S Doubled Die Obverse graded PCGS MS62+. It was the finest known by a large margin (the previous finest known was a PCGS MS61), but I can’t imagine anyone expected the coin to bring $69,000. In case you’re wondering, a PCGS MS62+ without the doubling is probably a $30,000 to $35,000 coin.

Lot 5398, the 1863-S, was graded PCGS MS63 and was spectacular. It brought $45,600, which is a record price for this date but still seemed a little light, especially when one considers that prior to this sale there were none sold at auction since late 2011 and that there was a report of $32,200 for a PCGS MS63 all the way back in June 2007.

I purchased Lot 5399, an 1864 graded PCGS MS62+ for $60,000. This is a pretty reasonable amount, as there is a sale of a PCGS MS62 in a 2014 sale. Also of note was the PCGS MS63+ 1864, which brought $88,125 in December 2020.

An expensive Type 1 that flew under the radar in the Hendricks sale was Lot 5403, a very nice 1866-S No Motto PCGS AU58. This issue became the poster child for the overheated Liberty Head Double Eagle market in early 2007 when another PCGS AU58 brought $195,500. The example in this auction realized $120,000 in the first appearance for a PCGS AU58 since May 2009.

1866-S No Motto Liberty Head Double Eagle, PCGS AU58. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

I felt that while there were some very strong prices realized for Type 1 Liberty Head Double Eagles, the overall strength shown by this series was not nearly as strong as their nearest equivalents, the No Motto Half Eagles and Eagles. These two series showed considerable strength for virtually every date and mint, unlike the Type 1 Double Eagles, which were spotty.

As I write this, it is clear to me that at the very top end of the Type 1 market there are fewer buyers than there were pre-Fairmont. If a very low-population coin such as the 1859 in PCGS MS62 comes along, the price will be less than expected if the two or three end users already have an equivalent coin.

It would have been interesting if the two key date Type 1 issues, the 1854-O and 1856-O, had been present. Assuming that they were of the same quality as the other key O-mints in the sale (i.e., in the AU53 to AU58 range and extremely nice for the issue), I’m almost certain that they would have set record prices for the date. It seems like this is a good time to be a buyer of high-end Type 1 Double Eagles. Prices are reasonable and the quality of these Fairmont coins is impressive, to say the least. I’m probably not going out on a limb to say that there are more Hendricks offerings to come, and they will present the new collector with the sort of opportunity that future generations will shake their head and go “can you believe the quality and availability of these coins?”

Buying and Selling Tips Auction Results Liberty Double Eagles (1849-1907)