1861-S $20 MS63 NGC....
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Select Mint State, Tied for Finest Graded
In this year that the Civil War began, the San Francisco Mint would make 768,000 double eagles with the Normal Reverse (as here) and 19,250 pieces with the rare Paquet Reverse. The present Normal Reverse example, certified MS63 by NGC, is one of the finest known at either service. It is the sole example so certified at NGC; PCGS also reports but a single specimen in that grade. Since the PCGS specimen is depicted on the CoinFacts website, we see that the two pieces are different, but they appear markedly similar in terms of overall quality.
The S.S. Brother Jonathan was so-called in much the same way that Americans today refer to Uncle Sam; Brother Jonathan was another nickname for America during the 1850s. The ship was owned from 1853 by the famous Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, and San Francisco was her home port. On her outbound voyages she sometimes carried a million dollars' worth or more of gold coins and bullion. In 1854 she assisted in the rescue of the S.S. Yankee Blade, shipwrecked on the way to Panama (see the 1854-S double eagle in this sale). The ship later changed hands numerous times.
Post-California Gold Rush strikes in Idaho, Oregon, and other places meant that the S.S. Brother Jonathan sometimes carried gold to rather than away from San Francisco. On July 30, 1865, the ship was steaming northward from San Francisco when she encountered a gale and struck an uncharted rock off the coast of Crescent City, California, rapidly sinking with millions of dollars' worth (today's value) of gold and 225 hapless passengers and crew. Only 19 souls made it to shore. In the 1990s the Deep Sea Research team finally located the wreckage, eventually bringing up some 1,207 gold coins.
Most of the coins recovered were double eagles from 1863-S to 1865-S, but some pieces were dated as early as 1834. The NGC Census Report shows 192 examples of the 1865-S in all grades attributed to the Brother Jonathan.
The present Select Mint State example of the 1861-S is one of only five Brother Jonathan examples at NGC, and it is the finest graded by far of those coins, as the second-finest are two pieces in AU58. It is also the finest NGC example regardless of provenance; the next finest non-Brother Jonathan coins are two coins in MS62 (10/11). This coin is orange-gold with frosty luster prevailing throughout both sides. The strike is well-executed, show full star centrils, good high-point hair definition, and bold detailing on the eagle feathers and glory of rays on the reverse. A few small contact marks account for the grade, most notable in the center of Liberty's cheek and a small scrape through the digit 1 in the date. The reverse is relatively free of abrasions, although some interesting die cracks join many of the peripheral letters, indicating the die-economy measures that prevailed during this era of Mint history at the branch mints: The Philadelphia Mint made all coinage dies, and it was a long, long way from there to San Francisco in the event more dies were needed.
From The Galt's Gulch Collection.(Registry values: N7079) (NGC ID# 269K, PCGS# 8935)
Service and Handling Description: Coins & Currency (view shipping information)