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The Fab Five Type Three $20 Liberty Head Double Eagles

By Doug Winter – RareGoldCoins.com

There are five ultra-low mintage Type Three Liberty Head double eagles that were produced for circulation during the 1880’s and 1890’s. These five issues have not necessarily received the attention that the so-called Fab Five late date St. Gaudens double eagles (the 1929, 1930-S, 1931, 1931-D and 1932) have but they are now popular with collectors and have risen dramatically in value over the last decade.

The 1881, 1882, 1885, 1886 and 1891 double eagles have a combined mintage of just 5,911. There are a number of possible reasons as to why these issues were made in such limited quantities. The first is that the Philadelphia mint was primarily interested in making silver dollars in these years and a majority of their efforts went towards these coins. I don’t find this plausible as mintage figures for other gold denominations during these years were high; as an example the mint made nearly four million eagles in 1881 alone.

The second was that there was limited demand. This is certainly possible but it does not explain why mintage figures for double eagles during these years at the San Francisco mint tended to exceed one million per annum. Another reason is that the United States economy was slow or worse during most of these years.

In looking at these dates in terms of overall rarity (the total number known) and high grade rarity (rarity in AU50 and higher grades), I rank the Fab Five as follows:

I. Overall Rarity
1. 1882
2. 1881
3. 1886
4. 1891
5. 1885

II. High Grade Rarity

1. 1881
2. 1882
3. 1886
4. 1891
5. 1885

Let’s take a look at each of these dates and discuss their overall and high grade rarity, Condition Census levels, the numbers graded by PCGS and NGC and record prices realized at auction.

I. 1881 Double Eagle

A total of 2,199 were struck of which an estimated three to four dozen exist today. There are none that I know of that grade lower than EF and around seven to ten are known in this grade range. The majority of the examples known are in the AU grades with around twenty-six to thirty-four accounted for.

I am aware of two in Uncirculated and they are as follows:

1. PCGS MS61. Heritage 4/09: 2762 ($120,750), ex Heritage 10/08: 3091 ($138,000), Heritage 1/07: 3203 ($138,000).

2. PCGS MS61. Heritage 6/04: 6363 ($57,500), probably ex Heritage 1997 ANA: 7843 ($29,325; where graded MS60 by PCGS).

The record auction price for this date is $138,000 which was set twice by the coin listed first in the Condition Census above. PCGS, as of December 2010, has graded 24 examples in all grades with just two in Uncirculated (both MS61). NGC has graded 19 in all grades with three in Uncirculated (an MS60 and two in MS61). I believe that the populations for AU coins are inflated by resubmissions. The 1881 is the rarest of the Fab Five is higher grades. (more…)