Type One Liberty Head Double Eagles


1865-S $20.00 NGC MS63

1865-S $20.00 NGC MS63

MINTAGE: 1,042,500

The 1865-S is another date whose rarity profile was greatly changed by the discovery of shipwrecks; in this case both the S.S. Brother Jonathan and the S.S. Republic which was found around a decade later. It was formerly a rare coin in higher grades but now it is among the most common Type One issues.

STRIKE: Non-shipwreck examples of this date are usually found with a weak strike on the obverse; although not as much so as on some of the earlier San Francisco double eagles of this type. Many show considerable weakness on the curls around the face and on the obverse stars. The shipwreck coins are somewhat sharper with more detail seen on the curls and at the top of Liberty’s head. Some are noticeably weak on some of the obverse stars while others have full or nearly-full detail on the stars. The reverse on both shipwreck and non-shipwreck coins is usually better struck.

SURFACES: A number of the S.S. Brother Jonathan and Republic coins have very clean surfaces with almost no marks; these must have been pristine when they were loaded on the ship. Most 1865-S double eagles are characterized by the sort of deep abrasions which characterize the great majority of Type One issues from this mint. Shipwreck coins graded Mint State-63 to Mint State-65 by PCGS (and later by NGC) vary considerably in quality. If a collector is patient, he should be able to acquire a choice example.

LUSTER: The luster is frosty with a noticeably grainy texture. On the shipwreck coins, the quality and appearance of the luster varies. Some have exceptional frosty luster and show little evidence of having been on the ocean floor for over a century. Others have a subdued, distinctly granular appearance which is suggestive of a classic “seawater” coin. If a collector looks at enough Bro Jo and Republic coins, he should be able to easily distinguish between the two.

COLORATION: Non-shipwreck coins show a medium to deep orange-gold color but many have been dipped and are bright and lifeless as a result. The shipwreck coins have color which ranges from light rose-gold to deep orange-gold. A small number have superb color and are, along with the better quality 1856-S and 1857-S coins from the S.S. Central America, among the most attractive United States gold coins of any denomination struck prior to the end of the Civil War.

1865-S $20.00 PCGS AU53 CAC, from the Saddle Ridge Hoard

1865-S $20.00 PCGS AU53 CAC, from the Saddle Ridge Hoard

EYE APPEAL: Prior to the discovery of the Brother Johnathan, it was very hard to locate an 1865-S with good eye appeal. The typical piece was weakly struck on the obverse, densely abraded, and dull. With the addition of hundreds of nice shipwreck coins to the market, there are now many 1865-S double eagles with above-average eye appeal.

INTERESTING VARIETIES: In the previous edition of this book, I wrote that only one important variety was known. This is incorrect and at least two exist as well as numerous minor positional varieties.

Small S mintmark: The mintmark is small and placed low in the field over the N in TWENTY. This is by far the more common of the two varieties.

Large S mintmark: The mintmark is noticeably larger and placed higher in the field over the N in TWENTY. This is the scarcer of the two varieties.

HOARDS: Over 550 double eagles dated 1865-S were found in the S.S. Brother Jonathan and many were marketed at an auction held by Bowers and Merena in May of 1999. Another major hoard, containing over 200 coins, was found in the S.S. Republic treasure.

BUYING TIPS: The collector who wants to own a nice 1865-S has a lot of options and he should be patient. The quality of the higher grade shipwreck coins varies, and one coin graded MS64 may be vastly inferior to another piece assigned the exact same grade. If possible, I would look for a coin in the original PCGS holder.

AUCTION RECORD: The current record for this date is $72,450 for a PCGS MS66 from the Brother Jonathan which was sold as Bowers and Merena 5/99: 449.

FINEST KNOWN: Two of the shipwreck coins were originally graded MS66 by PCGS in 1999. The finer of these, which is cited above, is likely the single best 1865-S double eagle in existence.


TOTAL KNOWN: 2500-3000


  • Very Fine: 700-800
  • Extremely Fine: 800-900
  • About Uncirculated: 400-500
  • Uncirculated: 600-800

PCGS Number: 8944

POPULATION FIGURES: As of the beginning of 2015, PCGS had graded a total of 467 in Uncirculated including 129 in MS64, 22 in MS65, and two in MS66. NGC had graded of 370 in Uncirculated including 82 in MS64, 58 in MS65, and eight in MS66. These figures are inflated by resubmissions. CAC has approved 50 Uncirculated examples: one in MS60, two in MS61, six in MS62, 14 in MS63, 25 in MS64, and two in MS65.

PERFORMANCE SINCE 2002: In the current market, a nice About Uncirculated example of this date (equivalent to AU55) is worth $3,000-4,000. In 2002, when the first edition of this book was published, a similar coin was worth $1,250-1,750. In the current market, a Choice Uncirculated example of this date (equivalent to MS63) is worth $13,000-18,000. In 2002, a similar coin was worth $4,500-5,500.

COMMENTS: A hard-core Type One double eagle collector can own no less than three distinct “looks” for this date: an S.S. Republic, an S.S. Brother Jonathan and a non-shipwreck example. It would be interesting to put together this three-coin set in the highest possible grades.

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