Some coins just make you shake your head because you can?t figure out why they were even produced with such low mintages. That is certainly the case with the 1882 double eagle.
There was warning that something like the 1882 double eagle was coming, as Philadelphia mintages of double eagles in the 1880s had been very low, with the business-strike total for the 1881 being just 2,199, along with an estimated 61 proofs.
There could have been a number of factors at work to explain the low double eagle totals from Philadelphia in the 1880s. The use of bank notes was probably increasing in that era The gold coins there tended to circulate less and sit in banks more as reserves for paper money or for possible use in international trade.
It is also possible that priorities at the Philadelphia Mint entered into the picture, as Philadelphia, as well as all the mints, was diverting some of its production capacity to the required task of making Morgan dollars. Unlike the other mints, Philadelphia was also attempting to produce small numbers of other denominations, as well as the required totals of coins only Philadelphia could produce, such as cents, three-cent pieces and nickels.
So, it is understandable why Philadelphia might have to make small numbers of coins that were not urgently needed for regular circulation.
Whatever the actual reason, we know that the 1882 double eagle had a business-strike mintage of just 571, which was one of the lowest totals for any denomination in U.S. history. In addition, there were about 59 proofs.
Today with such a mintage, there would be desperate attempts to acquire an example, but this was 1882, and there appears to have been no attempt on the part of anyone to acquire such a low-mintage gold coin. The few who had any interest in collecting gold coins were likely to be collecting only by date, and they were likely to be the buyers of the 59 proofs. There is no doubt all 59 would have sold at the time, as many times proofs were later melted if they did not sell.
In the case of business strikes, you can basically forget the idea that many would have been saved. There were no collectors to do the saving and that was made all the more difficult by the denomination, which was a great deal of money to most at the time.
If you look at the prices of the 1882 today, you find that a VF-20 is listed at $8,000 while an MS-60 is priced at $80,000, with a Proof-65 estimated at somewhere in the $100,000 range, although the current record price was $60,375 in a Heritage Long Beach sale in 2004, but that was a Proof-64.
The 1882 is only available in small numbers. Numismatic Guaranty Corpo-ration has only seen 10 business-strike coins, of which one was Mint State. The total for proofs at NGC is four, all of which were Proof-64.
At Professional Coin Grading Service, they have seen 16 business strikes, of which three were Mint State, and 10 proofs, with the best being Proof-65.
Under the circumstances, the chances to buy an example in any grade are limited. The fact that the number of double eagle collectors is small is probably the only thing that keeps the 1882 at the relatively modest prices it is at today, as it is a legitimate rarity and one which one day will see much higher prices.