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The Million-Dollar Liberty Head Eagle


It’s likely that Heritage Auctions’ recent sale of a PCGS AU53 1875 Liberty Head Eagle will go largely unnoticed by non-specialists. After all, million-dollar coins are a common occurrence at coin auctions in the 2020s, and to get noticed today, it seems a coin needs to hammer for at least $4 million. But to those of us of a certain age, a million bucks is still a ton of money for a coin – especially a circulated coin and one that has flown under the radar for years.

Some background is in order.

The 1875 Liberty Head Eagle, seen here in its original PCGS holder and graded AU53, took $1,020,000 in an October 2022 auction. Courtesy of Heritage Auctions, Click image to enlarge.
This 1875 Liberty Head Eagle is graded PCGS AU53 and sold for virtual moon money at a Heritage Auction sale. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions, Click image to enlarge.

The 1875 $10 is the undisputed key to the Liberty Head Eagle series, with likely no more than 10 known specimens from an original mintage of just 100. Not only is it definitively rare from an overall perspective, it also is a conditional rarity with none graded by PCGS finer than AU53+. The coin sold by Heritage Auctions (Lot 3261 in the September 2022 Long Beach sale to be specific) was graded AU53. It was very fresh, having last appeared at auction back in 1997. It was also well-pedigreed, having originally come from the James Carter sale (Stack’s 1/1986). The coin hammered at $850,000, meaning that with the 20% buyer’s premium it sold for $1,020,000. This is, by far, a world record for any business-strike Liberty Head Eagle.

I will freely admit that I was stunned by the price. In fact, I texted another dealer a few days before the sale and said I would like to split the coin in case it “fell through the cracks.” How 2019 of me… These days almost nothing falls through the cracks at major auctions.

Here are some random thoughts:

In late 2019, a prominent venture capitalist contacted me about assembling a world-class set of Liberty Head Eagles. I mentioned that there was, coincidentally, an important complete set of these which was coming on the market in February 2020. I was very familiar with the coins in the collection, as I had sold the owner a number of them and the coin that I urged him to focus on was the 1875.

I had purchased the coin in the set for the owner in 2018 at a price of $372,000, and I remember telling the prospective new owner that I thought 1875 Eagles were very underappreciated – that in the future it could be a $500,000 to $600,000+ coin. After preparing an extremely detailed proposal for this individual, he decided that the series was “too complicated” (his exact words… Sigh) and he stopped communicating with me.

My point is this: I certainly didn’t expect the 1875 $10 to become a million-dollar coin in 2022; let alone in my lifetime.

Before the Trophy Coin Era (which really began in earnest around 2020), the price of rare coins went up incrementally. A coin like an AU 1875 Eagle was worth $150,000 in the 2000s, $250,000 in the early 2010s, and $350,000 in the early 2020s. Given its price history, one would have expected the next price increment for this date to have been $450,000 (maybe even $500,000) in 2022. But this isn’t how values work today, and as a result we have yet another record price that is multiples higher than the previous peak of $372,000.

How will this price impact comparable Liberty Head gold coins? The two issues that I think are most closely aligned with the 1875 Eagle are the 1854-S Quarter Eagle and the 1875 Half Eagle.

The 1854-S Liberty Head Quarter Eagle is a rare coin in all grades. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.
The 1875 Liberty Head Half Eagle saw a mintage of only 200. Courtesy of PCGS TrueView. Click image to enlarge.

The 1854-S Quarter Eagle is slightly less rare than the 1875 Eagle in terms of overall rarity, but it is rarer in high grades (in this case AU and finer). The most recent sale of a nice 1854-S was in March 2020, when the Pogue-Bass PCGS AU50 specimen brought $384,000. Given that a PCGS VG10 sold for $360,000 in May 2022, I’d say that the AU50 was a pretty good deal.

The 1875 Half Eagle is virtually equal in terms of overall and condition rarity to the 1875 Eagle. An exceptionally nice PCGS AU53 1875 Half Eagle brought $480,000 at Stack’s Bowers Galleries’ April 2022 auction. This seemed like a really strong price at the time, but now it appears like a really fair result. It is part of a series with more collectors than Liberty Head Eagles, and it was a slightly nicer coin (in my opinion) than the PCGS AU53 1875 Eagle that recently eclipsed the $1 million mark.

What will be the next under-the-radar $1 million dollar U.S. gold coin?

Liberty Eagles (1838-1907)