In the Spotlight: The Arlington Collection 1854-S $20 Liberty Head Gold Double Eagle
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CERTIFICATION: NGC AU58
This 1854-S double eagle is the only one graded AU58, with none finer, recovered from the SS Republic, making it the finest known from the shipwreck for this date and mint. A total of only five 1854-S coins were recovered from the shipwreck. Each of the other dates of San Francisco double eagles from the shipwreck had totals of over 50 coins each with the exception of the 1861-S Paquet.(The 1866-S No Motto was minted after the ship sank)
1854 was the first year double eagles were produced in San Francisco which makes it quite popular with collectors. With the opening of the San Francisco mint, gold that would previously have been shipped to the New Orleans mint now stayed closer to home. As a result, mintages of double eagles at the New Orleans mint plummeted in 1854, 1855, and 1856 thus creating the scenarios that would lead to these coins being some of the truly great rarities among U.S. coins. In fact, mintages at the New Orleans mint never again recovered to the levels that they had been at prior to 1854.
The 1854-S double eagle is the rarest San Francisco type 1 double eagle after the more famous rarities of the 1861-S Paquet and 1866-S No Motto. If instructions from Philadelphia had reached San Francisco in time, neither of those two rarities would have been released into circulation, making the 1854-S the rarist. But if that had happened, then type 1 double eagles would not be as interesting to collect.
In addition to the 5 examples recovered from the SS Republic shipwreck, 25 examples were reportedly found in the SS Central America shipwreck of which four graded mint state.
Approximately 100 double eagles were said to be recovered from the shipwreck of the SS Yankee Blade in 1977. The ship sank in the Pacific in October 1854 while on a run from San Francisco to Panama. The ship was apparently racing another steamship that was making the same run. The irony is that many of the passengers that were rescued were picked up by the SS Brother Jonathan, which itself sank in 1865 with a large hoard of $20 gold double eagles.
Most of the double eagles recovered from the SS Yankee Blade are said to have saltwater etching, but occasionally some are apparently nice enough to get graded and certified by the third party grading services. Since these coins were quietly released into the collecting community back around 1977, they would have lost their pedigree and so would not have the SS Yankee Blade designation on their holders.
The 1854-S is one of those rare examples where the coin tends to be more common in higher grades than its overall rarity would indicate. This is probably due to the SS Yankee Blade coins that have been certified, which tend to be in higher grades.
SS Republic Population: 1/0 finer (Finest Known)
NGC Population: 15/48 finer
PCGS Population: 0/55 finer
Overall Rarity: Approx. 350-450
AU and MS Rarity: Approx. 175-225
Overall Rank: 16 of 44 coins
AU and MS Rank: 23 of 44 coins
Mintage Rank *: 15 of 42 coins
* 42 coins due to 1853 and 1854 varieties being combined
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