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1873 and 1873-S $20 Open and Closed 3 Varieties

By Joshua McMorrow-Hernandez - October 5, 2020

The Liberty Head Double Eagle series offers numismatists many fascinating collecting avenues, including three distinct subtypes involving the motto "IN GOD WE TRUST" and spelling of the coin's denomination – or combinations thereof.  And among the three subtypes are found numerous varieties, including four important varieties of 1873 Double Eagles.  These include the Philadelphia-minted 1873 Open and Closed 3 and San Francisco 1873-S Open and Closed 3 issues.

Liberty Head $20, 1873 $20 Closed 3, DATE COMPARISON. Click image to enlarge.

These scarce 1873 $20 gold coins are highly desirable, particularly among date-and-mintmark collectors.  The Liberty Head $20, designed by James B. Longacre and in production as a circulation coin from 1850 through 1907, represents the largest of the classic mass-produced United States gold denominations struck by the United States Mint.  Therefore, this precious-metal coin, containing nearly a full troy ounce of gold, is relatively expensive to obtain.  Nevertheless, it is a widely collected series, with type collectors and bullion investors pursuing the more common dates while many deep-pocketed collectors attempt completing date-and-mintmark sets.  Therefore, there is significant demand for the 1873 Open 3 and Closed 3 varieties in all grades, particularly in the rare Mint State grades.

Differences Between the Open 3 & Closed 3

The distinctions between the two types of "3" as seen with these varieties are where the diagnostics lay for attributing an Open 3 versus Closed 3 variety.  Here's a rundown on distinguishing the two types of 1873 Double Eagles:

  • Open 3 – The diameter of the larger serif (ball) on the lower curve of the 3 appears approximately the same size of the opening between itself and the lower end of the top serif in the 3.
  • Closed 3 – The lower serif on the 3 appears to wide to fit through the smaller opening of the 3.

The differences between Open 3 and Closed 3 as noted above are the same on both the Philadelphia and San Francisco issues.

Collecting The 1873 Open & Closed 3 Double Eagles

With the Philadelphia-issue 1873 issues, the Open 3 is far more common than the Closed 3.  In fact, in terms of number of survivors, the Philly 1873 Open 3 is the single-most common Double Eagle dating from before the mid-1890s.  Conversely, the Philadelphia Closed 3 is one of the rarest Philadelphia dates in the Liberty $20 series, especially the case with Mint State specimens.  PCGS CoinFacts estimates there are approximately 12,500 Open 3 Double Eagles hailing from the Philadelphia Mint, with 3,000 graded MS60 or better though just two estimated survivors in grades of MS65 or better.  There are just 687 Closed 3 examples with only 27 extant in uncirculated grades and none known in MS65 or better.

Liberty Head $20, 1873 $20 Closed 3, PCGS MS63. Click image to enlarge.
Liberty Head $20, 1873 $20 Open 3, PCGS MS65+. Click image to enlarge.

There is less of a survivor differential between the Open 3 and Closed 3 Double Eagles from the San Francisco Mint, with 2,657 examples of the 1873-S Open 3 across all grades, with 65 in uncirculated grades.  The 1873-S Closed 3 offers collectors an estimated 5,375 specimens across the grading spectrum and 250 uncirculated examples.  Neither S-mint date is known in grades of MS65 or better.

Liberty Head $20, 1873-S $20 Closed 3, PCGS MS63. Click image to enlarge.
Liberty Head $20, 1873-S $20 Open 3, PCGS MS62. Click image to enlarge.

Collectors can obtain circulated specimens of the 1873 Open 3 and 1873-S Closed 3 for rather small premiums above gold spot value.  Uncirculated specimens of the 1873 Open 3 in the MS62 range aren’t necessarily cost prohibitive at $2,625, but the 1873-S Closed 3 fetches $6,300 at the same level.  The 1873 Closed 3 in AU50 is hardly a showstopper at $2,650, but values jump quickly in the uncirculated grades, where MS62 specimens trade for $12,000.  The 1873-S Open 3 retails for $2,335 in AU50 and only a small premium further in MS62, at $2,625.

PCGS Set Registry members competitively vie for the handful of top specimens.  In the case of the 1873 Open 3, there are presently only 13 graded PCGS MS64 and just one in the top grade of PCGS MS65+, and that piece hasn’t been publicly offered in several years.  Thus, many Set Registry members working on this series keep their eyes on the available baker's dozen of MS64s, which have collectively appeared for sale far more frequently.  The 1873 Closed 3 offers a single top-pop specimen in MS63, and it, too, has been seldom seen on the market.  PCGS MS62 specimens number just 13 as of this writing.

The S-mints pose just as many challenges to the top-end buyer.  The 1873-S Open 3 has 12 top-pop specimens grading PCGS MS62, while the highest-grading 1873-S Closed 3 Double Eagles are three specimens grading MS63; there are 56 graded PCGS MS62 and only eight in PCGS MS62+.  Given the tiny handful of decent specimens free of nicks, scratches, and other contact marks on these coins, collectors should expect to pay premiums on the occasion that a truly nice specimen turns up for sale.

Article provided by PCGS at
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