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Item of the Week: The 1804 Gold Eagle

An 1804 Crosslet eagle. (Images courtesy Heritage Auctions)

The 1804 gold eagle is closely related to the famous 1804 silver dollar. There is one variety of the 1804 gold eagle that is actually tougher than the 1804 silver dollar but much less expensive, making the 1804 potentially one of America’s least-known rarities despite its famous date.

The story of the 1804 gold eagle is similar to that of the 1804 silver dollar. The two top denominations were causing more than their fair share of trouble in the minds of officials back in the early 1800s when the nation had a very serious coin shortage. To fix this, large numbers of assorted denominations needed to be produced but especially lower denominations. That, however, was not happening.

It must be remembered that the U.S. Mint at the time was still not a world-class facility. To encourage people to bring in copper, silver, and gold, the Mint had a practice of allowing them to basically order the coins to be produced from their metals. People would almost always order top denominations such as gold eagles and silver dollars.

Officials at one point stopped production of the upper denomination coins but then changed their minds, trying instead to talk people into ordering the lower denominations, which was not successful. Finally, in desperation, production was suspended for both the gold eagle and silver dollar.

In the 1830s when preparing for a diplomatic mission, it was decided to assemble proof sets but the silver dollar and gold eagle were still not being produced. Not wanting to give sets with holes, it was decided to produce whatever was the last year of the gold eagle and silver dollar. Records indicate that there was production of both in 1804. By producing coins with that date, the first 1804 silver dollar was created as the ones made in 1804 carried 1803 dates.

In the case of the gold eagle, however, it was different as the 3,757 mintage listed for 1804 was actually dated 1804. The officials at the time thought that every listed 1804 mintage had been dated 1804, but since they needed gold eagles, they ordered 1804 gold eagles, also.

The 3,757 business strikes from 1804 have a crosslet “4” in the date and are very tough. In F-12, the 1804 lists for $16,000, while in MS-60, the 1804 is $70,000.

Supply of the 1804 is not strong with Numismatic Guaranty Corporation showing just 40 graded, a total of 21 of the 40 were graded at MS-60 or better with the best being an MS-64. At Professional Coin Grading Service, a total of 39 have been graded and 10 were called Mint State with the best being a couple in MS-63. The totals, especially in Mint State, sound large for an early gold eagle but actually they are far below the totals for more available dates.

There was, however, another 1804 gold eagle; and this one – a proof re-strike made at the time of the special mintages for the diplomatic sets – had a plain “4” instead of the crosslet “4” seen on the business strikes. The officials had created not only a new silver dollar date but also a new gold eagle with a plain “4.”

With just a slight difference, the plain “4” gold eagle has not received anything close to the attention that has been paid to the 1804 dollar. The plain “4” 1804 gold eagle is thought to have had a mintage of just six pieces, which is lower than the 1804 silver dollar. We cannot be absolutely certain but indications are that somewhere between four and six examples of the plain “4” are known. It is hard to tell as the examples seen by grading services could be the same coins. Whatever the total, it is lower than the 1804 dollar, yet the price of the plain “4” gold eagle is much less. The 1982 Eliasberg coin sold for less than $35,000 and, although estimates of $100,000 or more have been printed, we really can’t be too sure just what the potential of the plain “4” really is. It is clearly very rare but not well known. To the right potential buyer, the price could be well above the $100,000 estimate.

Whether you are discussing the business strike crosslet “4” 1804 or the special plain “4,” you are discussing a very interesting and very tough coin. In both cases, they are probably potentially much more valuable, but it would be hard for either to become much more historically interesting.

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