Due to the discovery of a significant number of 1856-S double eagles in the S.S. Central America treasure (see below for more information), the 1856-S is now one of the three most available Type One double eagles.
STRIKE: The strike is similar to that seen on other San Francisco double eagles of this era. The obverse is sharp overall but may show weakness on the curls around the face, and especially on the curl below her ear. The hair at the top of the head is often weak as well. The obverse stars are sharp and often have full radial lines while the denticles are clearly separated. The reverse can show weakness at the center but it is well-defined overall. On some, there is minor weakness on the denticles.
SURFACES: The surfaces generally have numerous abrasions. However, it is easier to locate an example with clean fields than on most other issues of this type. Some have granular surfaces due to exposure to seawater. These are valued at lower levels than the coins from the S. S. Central America which have a very attractive appearance.
LUSTER: This was a well-produced issue and higher grade pieces have excellent luster. This is usually frosty in texture although some semi-prooflike pieces are known.
COLORATION: The natural coloration on 1856-S double eagles is a rich rose-gold with olive hues. Thanks to the addition of 1,000 examples into the market from the S.S. Central America, it is possible for the collector to easily obtain a high-grade example with great color.
EYE APPEAL: Even before the SSCA shipwreck coins were uncovered, the level of eye appeal for this date was above average. The 1856-S is well-struck and many coins have good luster and nice color. With little effort, the collector should find a handsome example for his set.
INTERESTING VARIETIES: All 1856-S double eagles have an Upright 5 in the date and a Medium S mintmark. Some show repunching on the 56. A total of 18 minor varieties have been identified in the S.S. Central America treasure.
PROOFS: No proofs were struck.
HOARDS: A total of 59 were found in the S.S. Republic. Three were in the S.S. Brother Jonathan, including one in Uncirculated. There were 1,085 in the S.S. Central America treasure including hundreds in Uncirculated. A group of “Choice Uncirculated” pieces are said to have come from a Northern California estate around 1973. A number were found in a shipwreck off the coast of Florida in the early 1970’s. More information on these can be found on page 84 of Dave Bowers’ book A Guide Book of Double Eagle Gold Coins.
BUYING TIPS: It is easy to determine non-shipwreck examples of this date and some collectors will gravitate towards these. Others will wish to purchase a nice S.S. Central America coin. Whichever version you decide to purchase, be patient as you are likely to be able to locate this date exactly as you want it.
AUCTION RECORD: The current auction record for this date is held by Heritage 1/12: 5033, graded MS66 by PCGS, and approved by CAC, which realized $74,750.
FINEST KNOWN: The finest known is a PCGS MS66 from the S.S. Central America which was last sold as Christie’s 12/00: 92 where it brought $57,500. The other PCGS MS66, last sold as Heritage 1/12: 5033 at $74,750 is not as appealing, in my opinion.
TOTAL KNOWN: 3000-4000+
- Very Fine: 400-500
- Extremely Fine: 900-1000
- About Uncirculated: 1300-1500
- Uncirculated: 400-500+
PCGS Number: 8919 (Varieties are numbered 70010 to 70027.)
POPULATION FIGURES: The finest graded by PCGS as of the beginning of 2017 include 40 in MS64, one in MS64+, seven in MS65, and three in MS66. A total of 327 in the various Uncirculated grades have been slabbed by PCGS. The finest seen at NGC include four in MS63, two in MS64, and two in MS65. A total of 54 have been graded Uncirculated by this service, including eight from the S.S. Republic. CAC has approved 12 in MS64, one in MS65 and one in MS66.
PERFORMANCE SINCE 2002: In the current market, a choice About Uncirculated (equivalent to AU55) would sell in the $3,250-4,250 range. In 2002, the same quality coin would have sold for $1,500-2,000. In 2014, a nice Uncirculated 1856-S (equivalent to MS62) would sell in the $11,000-13,000 range. In 2002, the same coin (pedigreed to the S.S. Central America and in the original gold foil PCGS holder) would have brought $5,000-6,000. I think it is worth noting that nice Uncirculated examples of this date have outperformed their counterparts dated 1857-S.
COMMENTS: This date has had its level of rarity more profoundly affected than any other Type One with the exception of the 1857-S. That said, nice examples have shown good price appreciation over the last decade, and should continue to show strong demand.