Rick's Green Vault Coins
1857-S $20 Liberty Gold Double Eagle, Type 1, Spiked Shield Variety
PCGS MS 67, CAC
S.S. Central America, Second Expedition, in Pinch of Gold Holder
I love this coin!
In my TOP 10 United States Type Coin "Gotta Have It" bucket list, the $20 Liberty Type 1 Double Eagle in MS 67 would certainly rank in the top three of that tier.
First of all, it is a Double Eagle... the largest gold coin ever struck for commerce by the United States mint!
There is the Saint Gaudens Double Eagle, but comparing the rarity of the Saint Gaudens in MS 67, or even MS 68, to the Liberty Type 1 in MS 67
The Liberty Double Eagle, Type 1 variety, the first gold double eagles struck by the United States mint, from 1850 to 1866.
If I were to name ONE United States Gold coin I would most yearn to acquire in exceptional mint state condition...MS 67... It would be the Liberty Double Eagle Type 1 variety, struck from 1850 to 1866.
That fact that this coin exist at all in this condition is a miracle in itself! Virtually all Type 1 double eagles immediately went into the banking system.
This is an 1857-S Type 1 Liberty Gold Double Eagle that should NOT exist! Not in this condition!
From the greatest treasure of early Liberty Double Eagles ever discovered, and ever will be discovered-
A Liberty Double Eagle in MS 67!? How rare is that?
How about if we compare oranges to oranges? The Liberty Double Eagle compared to the Saint Gaudens Double Eagle:
Total PCGS Population
1850 - 1907 Liberty Double Eagle
1907 â€" 1933 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle
And this Liberty Double Eagle is a Type 1 !
If not for the S.S. Central America, the Type 1 Liberty Double Eagle would essentially be unknown in MS 67 condition. Unlike the later Saint Gaudens Double Eagles struck from 1907 through 1933, these earliest Type 1 Double Eagles, struck from 1850 until midway through 1866, all went into the banking system, with few exceptions.
As low as these population numbers are for the Type 1 Liberty Double, what is critically important to appreciate is that the vast majority of those MS 66 and MS 67 (and MS 65 and MS 64) Type 1 Liberty Double Eagles were recovered from the "Ship of Gold", the S.S. Central America.
Of the 17 Type 1 Liberty Double Eagles surviving in MS 67 condition, most were from the Central America. The lone MS 67+ also was from the Central America. (The lone MS 67+, recovered from the 2nd recovery effort, resides in a collection belonging to the chief officer of that expedition.)
The final destination of the S.S. Central America was New York city. Once arriving, the over 5,000 freshly minted gold double eagles, tightly packed in wooden boxes custom made for these coins, were to be unloaded and delivered to the major banks throughout the city. Once delivered, the coins would enter commerce, to end up in the typical circulated condition one finds Type 1 Double Eagles.
In total, there were over 5,000 1857-S Liberty Double Eagles recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic.
Overall, for an early Double Eagle, these coins were in remarkable condition!!! With most grading MS 62 - MS 64 (remarkable grades for early Double Eagles), another approximately 1,000 examples grading MS 65, another 200 grading MS 66, and the handful in MS 67.
Why? How could they have survived in such extraordinary condition
When the freshly minted 1857-S Liberty Double Eagles left the San Francisco mint to begin their journey aboard the S.S. Sonora down the California Coast to Panama on August 20, 1857, they were tightly stacked in custom wood boxes by the mint - they were not dumped randomly in boxes or bags. Efficient storage was critical, given the weight of the gold, and loosely packed gold would easily shift the weight in the hull of the ship in high seas, adversely affecting the stability of the ship.
When the Sonora reached Panama City on September 3, 1857, the naval crew loaded the precious cargo onto a train for the four hour journey to the east coast Panama city of Aspinwall (now named Colon), into the cargo bay of the S.S. Central America, a 280 foot paddlewheel steamer, state-of-the-art for its day. The crew totaled 101. There were 477 passengers in all, first class, second class, and steerage.
The fare for the passengers for the journey from San Francisco to New York was not cheap. In 1857 a First Class cabin was $300, Second Class $250, Steerage $150.
The journey began under sunny skies, but by September 9, as the S.S. Central America was travelling up what is now the east coast of Florida, the skies became overcast, with intermittent strong winds, to the degree that passengers who had been on deck went to their cabin in the inclement weather.
By the next day, September 10, the experienced naval crew knew the ship was caught in a hurricane, with seas "mountains high". The passengers remained in their cabins that evening, all quite ill.
The storm continued to intensify, and by September 11, the Central America found itself caught in a hurricane estimated today at a Category 2. A day later, all men on board-the naval crew, first class, second class, steerage, formed a bucket brigade in an attempt to keep the ship from flooding.
It was to no avail. At approximately 8:00 p.m. on September 12, 1857, the Central America sank beneath the waves, with Captain Herndon at the helm, still sending off flares to alert any possible vessels within sight, of the hundreds of lives now adrift at sea.
An estimated 425 lives perished of the 578 on board. It was the greatest loss of life in a naval disaster in our young country's history.
The gold was believed to be lost forever.
It took 131 years, but the wreckage of the S.S. Central America was finally discovered during an exploratory expedition, using sophisticated sonar, by the Arctic Discoverer, on September 11, 1988!
When the submersible robot, the NEMO, made its journey to the bottom, nearly 8,000 feet beneath the waves, the crew of the Arctic Discoverer couldn't believe what they were witnessing as the NEMO relayed video images back to the mother ship...
There, as if in a time capsule, were gold double eagles, many still neatly stacked as they had left the San Francisco mint in 1857! The wood boxes these coins were stored in had long been eaten away... leaving the double eagles sitting on the ocean floor in the same neat box-sized stacks as the day they left the mint in 1857!
What are the odds? It was the "perfect storm", numismatically speaking.
There have been other small Liberty Double Eagle hoards, mostly of the Type 2 and Type 3 varieties, but those coins would typically be found in bags, coffee cans, etc., and all heavily abraded.
These 1857-S Liberty Double Eagles were better than mint fresh! They had received the best of care while still at the mint, being neatly stacked in boxes, not dumped into bags, for their special journey by ship.
Of the over 5,000 1857-S double eagles in the cargo, virtually all were uncirculated.
I have handled several hundred of these coins over the past several years.
Most were subsequently graded between MS 61 and MS 64 by PCGS.
Approximately 1,000 graded MS 65.
220 graded MS 66.
11 graded MS 66+
The finest survivors from the greatest treasure of early United States Double Eagles we will ever see...
11 graded MS 67.
1 graded 67+.
The S.S. Central America was one of a kind. It has been referred to as the Ship Of Gold. There is not, and never will be, another like it.
And this example... this phenomenal MS 67 - among the few to survive in MS 67! There are no MS 68's!
This 1857-S Type 1 Liberty Double Eagle is from a time capsule, as close to mark-free as any Liberty Double Eagle as you will ever see. THE COIN SHOULD NOT EXIST!!!
I have handled many of the examples from the Central America that were certified in MS 66, and MS 66+, to compare the quality. And there is a difference. To be certain, there was not a major difference between the quality of the MS 66+ examples, and this coin. But this MS 67 was obviously superior in quality and eye-appeal.
This 1857-S belongs in a museum. ANY 1857-S Liberty Double Eagle from the S.S. Central America commands a premium, given the pedigree.
Certainly, this Liberty Double Eagle, of the Type 1 variety no less, is in a class by itself.
Borne of the tragedy of the S.S. Central America... if not for the unfortunate location of the S.S. Central America at that particular point in space and time in the Atlantic, the paddlewheel steamer would have completed its journey to New York, this 1857-S double eagle would have been sent to a bank somewhere in New York city, making its way into a cashier's till, or a bag... and within a matter of a few moments would have been reduced from the MS 67 museum quality, to just another typical circulated early Liberty double eagle.
A coin that should not exist, exists for us today. I have truly enjoyed owning this marvel of U.S. numismatics.
I have spent many hours marveling at this coin. Its history. The pedigree. It truly is a time capsule. Struck before the Civil War... it is mint fresh as if it just came off the die.
A coin that should not exist. Its final destination was New York, where it would then find its way into a bag, or a cash drawer; and up like virtually all the other Type 1 double eagles from this era in heavily used, heavily worn condition
Who wants to be the next owner? Without question, among the greatest United States double eagles surviving today, of the highest condition, MS 67. So few survivors in this ultimate MS 67 grade, out of over 100,000,000 Liberty double eagles originally struck for commerce.
From the second leg of the expedition, this 1857-S masterpiece is in the original PCGS "Pinch of Gold" holder. Only 3 1857-S Liberty Double Eagles were recovered in this final expedition in MS 67 condition.
Finally, if I have not already done so, to help give you a true appreciation of the 1850 - 1866 Liberty Type 1 Double Eagle in high grade mint state condition, the finest known mint state Type 1 Liberty Double Eagle, other than the 1849 Specimen strike, which is probably about an MS 63 grade, is the 1855-P specimen... It grades MS 61.