Friday, November 17, 2006

In the Spotlight: The Arlington Collection S.S. Republic 1860-O $20 Liberty Head Gold Double Eagle (Finest Known!)

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Click here to view The Arlington Collection of Type 1 Double Eagles
Click here to view The Arlington Collection of Shipwreck Gold


This 1860-O double eagle is the most recent acquisition by The Arlington Collection and is currently the finest, and only known, example in mint state. I paid a high price to acquire this coin by giving up my example of one of the great rarities in the 1854-O, which was graded AU53 by NGC. Although I now have a hole in my set of type 1 double eagles, I consider this to be an upgrade to the set since this 1860-O is a truly unique coin where the 1854-O was not. Although others might disagree with the wisdom of this choice, I am happy with it.

This 1860-O double eagle graded MS60PL is the only example graded mint state by either PCGS or NGC making it the finest example known. Out of close to 2,500 double eagles recovered from the SS Republic shipwreck, this is the only example found of the 1860-O showing just how rare this coin is. No other shipwrecks have been found with examples of this coin.

Although the 1854-O and 1856-O are considered the great rarities of the type 1 double eagles, the 1860-O along with the 1855-O and 1859-O are considered the next level of great rarities in the series. With a mintage of just 6,600 coins, the 1860-O had the third lowest mintage of the type 1 double eagles which is lower than the mintages of the more famous 1861-S Paquet and 1866-S No Motto rarities. This trio of 1855-O, 1859-O, and 1860-O have shown tremendous price appreciation over the past few years. With the popularity of type 1 double eagles on the increase, this trend may continue, but lower grade examples are still within the reach of many collectors.

Most reference guides generally assume about a 1% survival rate of type 1 double eagles which would mean that about 66 examples might exist. I'm a little more conservative in my estimates of 90 to 100 examples being out there. There is no doubt that most 1860-O examples were released into circulation. Even with all the double eagles repatriated from European banks in the 1990's, a mint state example failed to appear. . . until now!

SS Republic Population: 1/0 finer (Only 1860-O found in wreck)
NGC Population: 1/0 finer
PCGS Population: 0/0 finer

Overall Rarity: Approx. 90-100
Mint State Rarity: Approx. 1-2

Overall Rank: 5 of 44 coins
Mint State Rank: 4 of 44 coins

Mintage: 6,600
Mintage Rank *: 3 of 42 coins

* 42 coins due to 1853 and 1854 varieties being combined

Recommended Reading:
Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins: 1795 - 1933, Circulating, Proof, Commemorative, and Pattern Issues

A guide Book of Double Eagle Gold Coins: A Complete History and Price Guide

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Treasure Ship: The Legend and Legacy of the S.S. Brother Jonathan by Dennis Powers (Book Review)

If you like shipwreck stories or collect double eagles, buy this book!

As the owner of The Arlington Collection of Shipwreck Gold and The Arlington Collection of Type 1 Double Eagles, I am always interested in books about shipwrecks where significant quantities of gold $20 Liberty Head Type 1 Double Eagles are found. These shipwrecks include the S.S. Yankee Blade (sank in 1854), S.S. Central America (sank in 1857), S.S. Republic (sank in 1865), and S.S. Brother Jonathan (sank in 1865).

Although Q. David Bowers had already written a book about the S.S. Brother Jonathan titled The Treasure Ship S.S. Brother Jonathan: Her Life and Loss, 1850-1865, there was a need for a new book in a style similar to Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder (S.S. Central America) and Lost Gold of the Republic by Priit Vesilind (S.S. Republic). Mr. Bowers’s book is an excellent compilation of facts and newspaper accounts regarding the loss of the ship, but it is not the type of book you can just sit down and read from beginning to end like a good novel. Dennis Powers’s Treasure Ship definitely reads like an exciting novel.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Treasure Ship is the thorough research that Dennis Powers obviously put into the book. When I initially saw that he was a lawyer turned writer, I was somewhat expecting the book to be a hard read due to “lawyer-speak.” That was certainly not the case. If anything, his lawyer background appears to have helped in making some of the legal arguments during the recovery operations easy to understand and actually interesting to read.

The story of the S.S. Brother Jonathan, is at least as tragic as that of the S.S Central America, and definitely more tragic than that of the S.S. Republic. The passengers of the S.S. Brother Jonathan are a Who’s Who of the time. One of the passengers onboard was the newly appointed superintendent of the U.S. Mint in The Dalles, Oregon, on his way to handle the construction of the facility. From newspaper editors and prostitutes, to a Civil War General and his staff, you couldn’t help but wonder as you were reading, who would be among the very few survivors.

From a numismatic perspective, I’ve often wondered why the recovered coins from the S.S. Brother Jonathan did not have the same saltwater effect that keeps most of the S.S. Yankee Blade coins from being graded by a third party grading service such as Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS graded most of the S.S. Brother Jonathan coins). I explain in an earlier blog entry (Link to blog entry) why coins from the S.S. Central America and S.S. Republic were in locations where the conditions protected the gold, but these conditions were not present at the S.S. Brother Jonathan site. The book does a good job of explaining why the S.S. Brother Jonathan gold coins were
in such good condition. The Arlington Collection contains double eagles grading MS65 from each of the three shipwrecks.

One of the things I really enjoyed about Treasure Ship was the chronology of the text. Ship of Gold and Lost Gold both were written in what I like to think of as the Titanic effect. Like the blockbuster movie of a few years ago, both books jump back and forth between the tragic events surrounding the sinking of the ships, and the present day recovery and legal efforts. Treasure Ship, on the other hand, follows from beginning to end in the chronological sequence of how the events happened. I felt this made for a much easier read than the other two books. That format, and just the great way that Dennis Powers writes, made you feel that you were actually there witnessing the events and not just reading about them.

One disappointment I did have with the book, and this is strictly on a personal note that most people would not care about, is that the book gave some background about the family of the wife of Captain Samuel DeWolfe, but gave no information about the Captain’s own family. The reason this was disappointing to me is that Captain DeWolfe is from Nova Scotia. My great-great-grandmother is also a DeWolfe from Nova Scotia and there is the possibility that the Captain and I could be distant cousins. I have done some of my own research but have yet to find out who his family was. If anyone reading this has any information that can help, just leave a comment on this post (comments can be left anonymously).

This is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I read a lot. The story of the tragic events and the cast of real life characters of the S.S. Brother Jonathan would definitely make for a great movie. Plus with much of the gold from the ship still not recovered, maybe the story is not over.

Books Mentioned in this Review
Treasure Ship: The Legend And Legacy of the S.S. Brother Jonathan

Lost Gold of the Republic: The Remarkable Quest for the Greatest Shipwreck Treasure of the Civil War Era

Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea

The treasure ship S.S. Brother Jonathan: Her life and loss, 1850-1865

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Peter, the U.S. Mint Eagle and Mascot

If you were lucky enough to be present at one of the state quarter launches or saw a news clip of one of the launches, you may have seen him. If you’ve been to the U.S. Mint’s website, you may have seen him. His name is Peter, and he is a bald eagle and the U.S. Mint’s official mascot. But unless you’ve been to the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, you probably don’t know that Peter was a real bald eagle. The true story about Peter has evolved into more legend than lore over the course of the last 150 years or so.

“Peter, the mint bird”, as he was called by Philadelphians, was a resident of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia for over half a decade. According to the U.S. Mint, Peter is said to have resided at the first U.S. Mint on 7th Street from 1830 to 1836. Since the first U.S. Mint was in operation from 1792-1833 and the second U.S. Mint went into operation in 1833, did Peter move from the first Mint to the second Mint? In any case, it is believed that Peter lived at the U.S. Mint sometime in the first half of the 19th century.

Legend has it that Peter would fly about the city during the daytime, always to return at night to spend his evenings at the Mint. Apparently on the streets of Philadelphia, everyone knew who Peter was and would recognize him when he flew by. It is said that during this time, Peter’s fame was as great as the later fame of “Old Abe”, the Wisconsin war eagle that became famous during the Civil War.

Then one day at the Mint, Peter was mortally wounded in a tragic accident. Details of the accident have become clouded over time and there are multiple versions of what happened. One account has it that Peter was perched atop one of the fly-wheels and when it was turned on, Peter’s wing became caught in the machinery, mortally wounding him. Another account has Peter trying to fly through the fly-wheel as it was moving, and a third account has Peter being injured when the sudden starting of the fly-wheel caused Peter to be thrown to the ground. However it occurred, legend has it that Mint employees nursed Peter for a few days before he finally died.

After Peter’s death, the superintendent had the bird mounted with his wings spread as if in flight. Peter was then placed in a clear case and eventually placed on display in the Mint cabinet. In 1893, Peter traveled to Chicago and became part of the U.S. Treasury’s exhibit at the World’s Columbian Exposition.

According to legend, the stuffed Peter was used as the model for the American eagle design on the reverse of the 1836, 1838, and 1839 dollars. In 1856, it was again said to have been indirectly used as the model for the flying eagle cents. But this version of events is not without controversy as some people do not believe the bird was used as a model. Personally, when I look at the eagle on the coins and a picture of the actual stuffed bird, I believe that Peter may have been the actual model for those coins.

Whatever the true story is about Peter, there is no doubt that Peter existed at a time when bald eagles could still be found flying around Philadelphia. Today, Peter is displayed in a case in the lobby of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia and can be found in cartoon format on the Mint’s website educating kids.

Here is a link to a picture of Peter at the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, along with pictures of the obverse of an 1856 flying eagle cent and the reverse of an 1836 silver dollar. What do you think about the notion that Peter was the model for the coin?

Link to picture of the real Peter

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The images above depict units of currency issued by the United States of America.
The design is ineligible for copyright, and is therefore in the public domain.

Recommended Reading:
History Of The United States Mint and Its Coinage (History of the U. S. Mint and Its Coinage)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

In the Spotlight: The Arlington Collection 1861-S Paquet $20 Liberty Head Gold Double Eagle

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NGC Population: 16/9 finer
PCGS Population: 4/2 finer

Overall Rarity: Approx. 90-100
AU and MS Rarity: Approx. 15-20

Overall Rank: 6 of 44 coins
AU and MS Rank: 4 of 44 coins

Mintage: 19,250
Mintage Rank *: 8 of 42 coins

* 42 coins due to 1853 and 1854 varieties being combined

According to An Insider's Guide to Collecting Type 1 Double Eagles by Douglas Winter and Adam Crum, the
Arlington Collection's 1861-S double eagle would qualify as condition census, which by their definition would rank this in the top 5 of 6 examples known.

The 1861-S Paquet reverse double eagle was once thought to have been just a pattern coin. The problem with this logic is that pattern coins were only minted in Philadelphia, not San Francisco. Also, the fact that this coin was released into circulation makes this a regular issue and not a pattern.

The coin gets its name from its designer, Assistant Engraver Anthony C. Paquet. The most noticable difference between the Paquet reverse and the earlier design is that the lettering on the Paquet is noticably taller.

But this coin should not exist. Apparently the feeling was that the coin's rim was two narrow and would cause problems. A message was sent to San Francisco telling them to halt production and revert back to the old reverse die design. Unfortunately (or fortunately for collectors), the telegraph only went as far as Missouri. By the time the message arrived in San Francisco, 19,250 coins with the Paquet reverse had already been struck and released into circulation.

This San Francisco double eagle is very popular among collectors due to it being the only double eagle with the Paquet reverse that was released into circulation. As a result, this coin is a must have for type collectors. Because of this demand, the 1861-S Paquet reverse has a significantly higher premium attached to it than other double eagles of similar rarity and grade.

Nevertheless, the 1861-S Paquet reverse is the rarist of all the San Francisco type 1 double eagles, just beating out the 1866-S No Motto for the title. There are no known uncirculated examples and it is a good bet that some of the totals in the NGC population count are the same coin being resubmitted multiple times. Moving up from AU55 to AU58 would increase the value of the coin by tens of thousands of dollars. Now that I look at it, I think mine deserves a grade of AU58!

There are two Philadelphia examples of the Paquet reverse but these were never officially released into circulation. There was a feeling that the rim was too narrow and would cause problems when struck. So the Philadelphia coins were apparently melted with the exception of the two known examples. One example is graded MS67 and was once in the Norweb Collection. This coin was displayed by Monaco Financial at the September 2005 Long Beach show were I was able to snap a picture of it.

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The Norweb example is said to be worth $10,000,000 today. This coin was part of the recent Noe scandal in Ohio. Apparently this coin was part of one of the coin funds involved in the scandal. After the coin was sold from the fund, it remained listed on the fund's inventory for years afterwards.

The other example is graded MS61 and was purchased at an auction in August 2006 in Denver by Monaco Financial for a sum of $1,600,000. I'm sure we will be seeing this coin in a future display of Monaco's. I only hope I get the chance to see it and snap a photo of it.

The 1861-P Paquet Reverse is coin #33 in 100 Greatest U.S. Coins (2nd Ed.) by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.

The 1861-S Paquet Reverse is coin #99 in 100 Greatest U.S. Coins (2nd Ed.) by Jeff Garrett and Ron Guth.

Recommended Reading:
100 Greatest U.S. Coins

Encyclopedia of U.S. Gold Coins: 1795 - 1933, Circulating, Proof, Commemorative, and Pattern Issues

A guide Book of Double Eagle Gold Coins: A Complete History and Price Guide