US Coins

Buffed 1857-S Coronet $20 earns 'altered' label

When it comes to the adjectives used to describe problem coins, an altered surface can be particularly tough to spot, and such pieces can be awarded a “No Grade” label. As Professional Coin Grading Service explains, “This No Grade covers anything added to the surface of the coin to either ‘improve’ its appearance or to cover marks. Surface alteration methods include adding: dental wax, putty, lacquer, nose grease, etc.” Altered surfaces are a form of coin “doctoring” designed to make a coin look better and can make rarities more affordable for collectors willing to live with a problem coin.

The Lot:

1857-S Coronet gold $20 double eagle, Uncirculated Details, Altered Surfaces

The Price:


The Story: 

The 1857-S Coronet gold $20 double eagle was made famous since thousands were included in the SS Central America shipwreck treasure. This particular example has a deceptively clean obverse nearly entirely free of marks. Given that the design type has broad fields and a prominent cheek on Liberty, contact marks are expected for the issue and an absence should provide cause for suspicion.

Heritage notes that the reverse appears original and lustrous, but that “a concerted effort was made to create an unmarked obverse, but the resultant appearance is that of a buffed coin with unnatural smoothness, although not wholly displeasing.”

COIN VALUES: How much is your 1857-S Coronet Gold $20 double eagle worth?

Graded PCGS Genuine, Uncirculated Details, Altered Surfaces, it sold for $4,230 at Heritage’s June 10 Long Beach auction. At that price, the market valued it higher than an About Uncirculated 58 example, but lower than a problem-free Mint State coin.

There is more to this Market Analysis! Keep reading about recently sold altered coins:

Cleaned 1892-S Morgan dollar realizes $16,450, well below price of unaltered one

'Enhanced' 1886 Coronet $20 double eagle realizes less than perfect price

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