Our last two blog posts have explored the origins of the rarest coin in US history – the $3 gold coin. Only two were produced in 1870, and one of them was damaged and lost. It seemed the famous “1870-S” coin was one-of-a kind. But, another one surfaced this year.
This “new” coin’s story is a bit of a mystery. In 1992, a European tourist found the coin glued to the inside of an old souvenir book from a San Francisco book shop. Current reports do not indicate whether he realized the value of his find. However, since he did nothing with the coin for 15 years before taking it to the Four Seasons Auction Gallery just outside of Atlanta and completely shocking everyone there, we’re guessing he did not. A coin of this rarity and value might have been more suitable on Sotheby’s auction floor.
At the time of this writing, the coin is undergoing preparations to be auctioned off. However, it has not been evaluated by any coin grading authorities. This, combined with the fact that the coin doesn’t exist by any historical accounts, has lead to many numismatists questioning the authenticity of the coin.
There are number of possible explanations for the origin of this coin. Perhaps it’s the specimen that was removed from the San Francisco mint’s cornerstone and the extent of its damage had been exaggerated. Or, because the first coin had been lost and damaged, perhaps the mint ordered more than one replacement and didn’t make a record.
In any case, if this new 1870-S is authentic, it could be worth $4 million or more (which is the current valuation of the 1870-S on display at the American Numismatic Association Museum). Although it may be the rarest US coin, it’s far from the most valuable. That honor goes to the 1933 Double Eagle – which was auctioned off for more than $7.5 million.
The whole story is shaping up to very interesting. We’ll be following it closely for more developments.
In our previous blog post, we talked about the history of the $3 gold coin. All versions of the coin are rare and valuable, but none more so than specimens from 1870 – of which there are only two. Or is it three?
After the first coin was lost, the San Francisco mint requested another one. For some reason this new coin was not minted correctly and was missing the “S” mintmark – as per the coin’s intended design. Local coiner J.B. Harmstead took the liberty of stamping the S mark onto the coin by hand. This made the S different from every other $3 coin in circulation – which had all been machine struck. With the first coin lost, this coin (with its unique S mintmark) is the only existing $3 coin from 1870.
The 1870-S never met its destiny at the center of the San Francisco mint’s cornerstone. Instead, it passed among collectors and is now on display at the American Numismatic Association Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo. As the only specimen of its kind, it was believed to be the rarest US coin in history. But earlier this year, another 1870-S turned up in Georgia.
Of course, that coin has its own interesting story. Look for details in our next blog post!
Gold coins are rare in and of themselves. The US in particular has only a few, scant examples. However, those few usually have great stories attached to them, and the 1870-S $3 coin is no different.
The $3 coin was created in 1853 to tie-in with the US postal system. One coin would be worth an entire sheet of stamps (100 stamps for 3 cents each). The US was still on the gold standard at the time, so the $3 coin was also a useful way to exchange several smaller coins for good old gold. At .9 fine, the $3 coin was good indeed.
The US never produced the coin in consistent numbers from year to year. In particular, the year 1870 stands out. Only two $3 coins were said to be minted that year. To commemorate the new US mint building in San Francisco, a $3 coin was created to be placed in the building’s cornerstone. Philadelphia minted the coin and sent it over to San Francisco, where it was placed in the cornerstone. While it sounds like a done deal, that’s where the story gets interesting.
For some unknown reason, the coin was removed from the cornerstone and damaged, then subsequently lost. When it could not be recovered, a second coin was ordered and shipped to San Francisco.
Those are the only two $3 coins on record for 1870. However, a new coin resurfaced this year. Where did it come from? What is it worth? Find out in our next blog post!