Best Buy: History and Rarity in One: The “Reconstruction Era” $20 Gold Liberty

Best Buy: History and Rarity in One: The “Reconstruction Era” $20 Gold Liberty

“Reconstruction Era” $20 Gold Liberty

Last month, I mentioned all our coins this year would fit a theme. We want to acquire coins for our clients that are 1) historically important and 2) an outstanding value. This month is a continuation of that theme.

The ‘Reconstruction Era’ $20 gold Liberty, which immediately followed the Civil War, is our Spotlight coin this month. The key this month is looking at how history directly influenced the rarity associated with these coins.

Remember, $20 back then was worth a LOT more than it is today. Because of the harsh economic period following the Civil War, production of $20 Liberties was at some of the lowest levels in the history of $20 gold production. The economic climate of the time did not call for as many high value coins to be available because they weren’t needed. As a result, $20 gold coins from this era remain some of the most sought after coins for collectors around the world.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The decade following the Civil War was a turbulent time for the United States. As the name ‘Reconstruction Era’ implies, this was a period of rebuilding and healing. Unlike the era following World War II, in which America experienced intense economic prosperity, the late 1860’s and early 1870’s were characterized by harsh ups and downs. The recovery was anything but smooth, and culminated in the Financial Panic of 1873.

AU53 $20 Gold Liberty

As is often the case, America’s coinage reflects the economic conditions of the time. During periods of stability and prosperity, coin mintages tend to flourish to keep pace with market activity. When conditions are uncertain and volatile, economic activity suffers and there is less demand for currency. Thus, during the turbulent Reconstruction Era of 1866-1876, many United States coins were struck in extremely limited quantities.

The $20 Double Eagles of this era are perfect examples of this phenomenon. In 1861, right before the Civil War broke out, the Philadelphia Mint released a record quantity of nearly 3 million Double Eagles. Production levels dropped as soon as the war began. In fact, the Mint’s production of $20 pieces would not reach the 3 million mark again until 1904! For numerous years in the 1860’s and 1870’s, annual production levels were down to 90% off their peak.

Double Eagle mintages were fairly robust in years like 1856 due to a wave of freshly mined California gold, but they pulled back in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s. Their mintages would bounce back in 1876, but in the 1866-1877 Reconstruction Era, their annual output was limited (with the noted exception of 1876).

A SEPARATE AND DISTINCT TYPE

Not only are the $20 Double Eagles of 1866-1876 quite scarce, but they also represent a distinct and separate type. The Liberty (or Coronet) $20 Double Eagle is divided into three types:

– Type 1: Struck from 1850 through mid-1866. This was the original version of the design created by James B. Longacre. The reverse lacks the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST,” and the denomination is expressed as “TWENTY D.” The Gold Rush $20 Liberties we offered to you in 2015 were Type 1 $20’s. Like the Type 2’s, these are scarce and always command a premium compared to the common Type 3.
– Type 2: Struck from mid-1866 through 1876. Both obverse and reverse were subtly restyled; the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” was added to the reverse, the denomination was still displayed as “TWENTY D.” The coins in this offering are Type 2’s. Much like the Type 1’s, these are considerably less available than the Type 3 and always command a premium. Since very few Type 2’s were recovered from shipwrecks, this is by far the rarest of the three types in high grade.
– Type 3: Struck from 1877 through 1907. These coins are similar to the Type 2 except with the denomination written as “TWENTY DOLLARS.” This is, by a wide margin, the most common variety of the $20 Double Eagle and is the ‘generic’ version.

While the design variations between the three types may be subtle, the rarity levels are starkly different. NGC, for example, has graded over 676,000 $20 Liberty Double Eagles. Of those, under 48,000 pieces (or roughly 7%) are Type 2’s. As a type, the 1866-1877 issues are substantially rarer than the common Type 3 dates.

RARITY AND VALUATIONS

The rarity comparison becomes even more dramatic on a date-by-date analysis. We have identified ten ‘sleeper’ dates that are wildly rarer than the common 1904 date, yet are trading for inexplicably low prices. These dates are a minimum of 129 times rarer than the generic 1904 issues, yet all sell for less than a 50% premium!

Date

NGC Pop

X Rarer

1904
221,395
Most Common

1867-S
1,164
190

1868-S
1,447
153

1869-S
1,403
158

1870-S
1,399
158

1871-S
1,710
129

1872-S
1,554
142

1873-Open 3
1,713
129

1873-Closed 3
864
256

1874
1,107
200

1875
1,478
150

The above table shows total coins graded by NGC for each date. The ‘sleeper’ Type 2 issues have miniscule total populations of 1,710 or fewer, while the 1904 has a population of over 221,000 pieces. In actuality, the difference in rarity is probably more extreme than this table indicates. There are massive quantities of XF and AU 1904 $20’s that are not worth certifying—therefore they do not appear in these NGC population figures. On the other hand, all XF and AU Type 2 $20’s are valuable enough to justify getting graded (and thus are reflected in these numbers). If the true total populations were compared, these Type 2’s would probably be more like 150-300 times rarer!

The rarity of these Type 2 Double Eagles seems impossible to ignore, yet that’s exactly what the market is doing.

Currently, these sleeper dates are only commanding a 50% premium compared to the generic 1904. If the standard reference book for this series were re-issued, we could see a wave of new demand for the Type 2 dates. A surge in gold prices would also re-invigorate interest in the $20 Double Eagle market in general, which would create many new collectors. Simply put, when more collectors start hunting down these dates, their true rarity will become obvious.

For now, however, these dates are available to you at bargain levels. Thanks to many months of searching, we are able to present you with 38 of these ultra-scarce Type 2 Double Eagles.

All are Reconstruction Era dates from the 1860’s and 1870’s, certified as Extremely Fine or About Uncirculated. We specifically picked coins with clean fields, problem-free surfaces and solid eye appeal. Each coin is at least 129 times rarer than the common 1904 date and available to you for less than a 50% premium over the ‘generic price.’ Bringing you this offering took months of work to assemble, but they will likely be spoken for in mere days!

THE OFFER

We have the following available for you today: 

Date

X Rarer Than Most Common $20 Liberty
XF (# available)
AU (# available)

1867-S
190
Call
Call

1868-S
153
Call
Call

1869-S
158
Call
Call

1870-S
158
Call
Call

1871-S
129
Call
Call

1872-S
142
Call
Call

1873-Closed 3
129
Call
Call

1873-Open 3
256
Call
Call

1874
200
Call
Call

1875
150
Call
Call

XF Price: Call for price & availability
AU Price: Call for price & availability

Please note all coins sold will be NGC or PCGS certified. As with many of our offers, these coins will not last long, and they may not come around again for a while. Take advantage of this special offer by calling us at 800-831-0007, or by sending me an email.

*Prices listed include shipping, handling and insurance, but prices are subject to change due to market fluctuation and product availability.

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