US Coins

Problem gold eagles still attractive choice in Heritage sale

Heritage had a fascinating run of gold $10 eagles at its recent Dec. 15 to 18 U.S. Coins Signature Auction with “problems” as designated by third-party grading services. They brought strong prices and provided some opportunities for collectors to buy otherwise unattainable coins.

A 1920-S Indian Head eagle is the third-rarest issue in the series and, of the 126,500 minted, nearly all went to the melting pot. Professional Coin Grading Service CoinFacts estimates 137 survive.

Gold specialist David Akers observed in 1988 that the typical example is weakly struck, including on the first two digits of the date. This weakness is seen on the offered example graded by PCGS as Genuine, Cleaned, About Uncirculated Details. Heritage acknowledges that the surfaces are bright from the improper cleaning, along with a few minor abrasions, but adds, “the opportunity to acquire a 1920-S ten gives the collector pause to consider just how much cleaning really matters given the overall rarity of this issue.”

Two sets of photographs presented online, along with the coin in its slab, allow collectors see the coin in different types of light, helping potential bidders determine the severity of the cleaning and its overall impact on the eye appeal.

An “occasional reddish accent” helps lessen the impact of the unusual yellow-gold color, and the inoffensive example sold for $24,000 on Dec. 15, less than the $30,000 it realized when it was offered at a July 14 Heritage sale, but more than the $20,400 that a different and particularly troubled representative, graded ANACS AU Details, Repaired, Whizzed, Net Very Fine 20, sold for on Oct. 6.

Centennial year gold $10

Two sets of pictures also help bidders rate the eye appeal of an 1876 Coronet eagle graded by Numismatic Guaranty Co. as Uncirculated Details, Obverse Scratched, that brought $26,500 at the auction. Surprisingly, of the varied images provided, the one of it in the slab is the most flattering, with different angles of light highlighting (or minimizing) the severity of the gouges in the obverse.

The issue is in the shadow of the 1875 Coronet eagle with its legendary mintage of just 100 coins, but 1876 also had a low production, 687 pieces, of which PCGS CoinFacts estimates only 42 survive. The 1876 Coronet eagle carries added interest as the year of America’s centennial, and Heritage writes, “would likely be regarded as the single finest 1876 ten dollar business strike, were it not for a narrow vertical mark on the field in front of Liberty’s nose.” If one can get past the major scratch and some more minor ones, the coin has some positive attributes. Heritage praised its “peach-gold surfaces [that] are well struck and display ample luster.” The price was more than the $21,600 that a “problem-free” representative graded AU-50 by PCGS brought at Heritage on Aug. 18, 2021.

Harshly Cleaned 1859-O

A duo of tougher date Coronet eagles each sold for $7,200 at the auction. The Dec. 15 session saw an 1859-O Coronet gold eagle graded PCGS Genuine, AU Details, Harshly Cleaned, find a new home.

PCGS defines improper cleaning as “Surface damage due to any form of abrasive cleaning,” noting that the designation “covers a wide range of appearances.” The descriptor “Harshly Cleaned” is seen with much less frequency and is typically seen used on coins with deep brush marks on the surfaces, where “Polished” is used for coins that have been buffed smooth.

The issue is from a small mintage of just 2,300.

Heritage observes, “This yellow-gold example is hairlined from cleaning, but circulation wear is minimal, and the strike is bold except on a few of the stars.”

Deep striations are seen going at multiple directions, including horizontal striations from cleaning at the date, though the protected areas inside the numerals largely remained unscathed, giving a clue to the original surfaces before the coin was impaired.

Cleaned 1865 eagle

The 1865 Coronet $10 eagle is a Civil War rarity with a mintage of just 3,980, of which PCGS estimates 50 to 75 survive in all grades.

Heritage writes, “This well-defined caramel-gold representative is mildly glossy from a wipe, and small abrasions are scattered.” The “wipe” resulted in obverse hairlines, while the reverse has a more natural appearance, leading NGC to designate it AU Details, Obverse Cleaned. The $7,200 it sold for on Dec. 16 represented a significant discount to the $18,000 that another one graded AU-50 sold for at auction in 2021, but was in line with what one graded PCGS Genuine, Extremely Fine Details, Gouged, sold for on Oct. 9.

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