General Comments

1861 can be compared to years in the late 1850ís Ė mintage indicates ready availability, but experience indicates otherwise. 1861 coins are scarce to rare in any grade. Despite a mintage ranking of 31st out of 46, examples are more difficult to locate than either 1859 or 1860. That said, this date is probably less underrated than the two mentioned above. The market has done a better job of recognizing its rarity. Most authors believe that the export of dollars was reduced by 1861. Itís likely that many were melted within our borders, simply because their silver content was several percent over their face value. Another factor that affects value should not be underestimated Ė the demand by collectors of Civil War memorabilia. This single factor probably doubles the demand for this and the other Civil War dates.

Nice examples can be located, but patient searching is required. High grades, both proof and business strikes, are more available than lower grades. The population reports show that over 40% of the business strikes currently in holders are MS60 or better, with another 30% in various grades of AU. Problem-free examples in grades lower than XF are extremely rare, and will generally bring much higher prices than most price guides would indicate. The two major grading services have graded only 16 coins less than VF20, with another 13 graded in the VF20-VF35 range. Collectors assembling a set in any grade less than XF will have a real challenge. Examples grading less than F12 are virtually unavailable. PCGS has graded 7 such coins. NGC has yet to grade a single example. The finest known business strike is a single MS66 graded by PCGS. 7 coins have received a MS65 grade, 4 at PCGS and 3 at NGC. One of the PCGS coins was given a MS65+ evaluation. 41 have received a MS64 grade. A total of 106 coins have been graded at all mint state levels. Population statistics are as of February, 2020.

Mintage 78,500
Proof mintage 1000
Mintage ranking 31st
Finest known MS66
Known obverse dies 5
Known reverse dies 6
Known die marriages 6
Most common die marriage OC-2/ R3+
Rarest business strike die marriage OC-3/ R6-
Rarest proof die marriage OC-P1/ R4+
Proofs are much rarer than the mintage of 1000 would indicate. We estimate the total survivors at around 250. Apparently, as many as 600 were melted to obtain silver for lower denomination coinage. Because of this the survival rate is much lower than the rates for subsequent years. The finest known proofs are three coins graded PR67, one by PCGS and two by NGC. 11 coins have received a PR66 grade. 20 have been rated as PR65, with four of these graded PR65+. A total of 262 coins have been graded in all levels of proof by the two major grading services. Several of these are surely re-submissions. Population statistics are as of March, 2020.

1861 examples are usually well struck. Some will have very slight softness on the star centrals, but all other obverse details are usually above average. Reverses are almost always sharp, although some examples will show a slight lack of definition on the upper edge of the eagleís left wing. High-grade business strikes are often prooflike or semi-prooflike. With a low mintage and 4 different die pairs the dies didnít get a chance to wear off their initial prooflike surfaces.

1861 Die Marriages

6 die marriages have been positively identified. Four obverse dies were each paired with a different reverse die to strike business strikes. All business strike die marriages are scarce, the most common rated R3+. None of the business strike dies were used for proofs. A single obverse die was paired with two different reverses to produce two proof die marriages. Breen identifies a third proof die marriage, but we have not been able to confirm its existence. We suspect that it was an early state of one of the business strike die marriages. We should note that the first edition of our book identified the second proof reverse die as Reverse 1861 PB. Since that time John Pack of Stacks-Bowers identified a proof of 1861 which paired the known proof obverse with 1856 Reverse PA. A review of our research confirmed that the die that we had identified as 1861 Reverse PB was actually 1856 Reverse PA. This web site and our to-be-published Second Edition now reflect this change. Our thanks to John for being observant enough to correctly identify the second 1861 proof reverse.

We should note that itís very possible that additional die pairings exist. The 1861 reverse dies are difficult to attribute, almost impossible when only a photo is available. We could have missed identifying a new die pair simply because we were unable to differentiate the reverse dies.

Click the links below to view the details of each die marriage.

Die Marriage
Obverse Die
Reverse Die
Estimated Survivors
OC-1 R5+ 1 A 45
OC-2 R3+ 2 B 265
OC-3 R6- 3 C 30
OC-4 R4- 4 D 160
OC-P1 R4+ P1 PA 110
OC-P2 R4 P1 1856 PA 140

1861 Business Strike Emission Sequence

Since there is no overlap of business strike dies the emission sequence can't be determined. If additional die marriages are discovered which share any of these dies weíll update the emission sequence.

Emission Order
Die Marriage
1 OC-1
2 OC-2
3 OC-3
4 OC-4

1861 Proof Emission Sequence

We believe that the extent of die polish on Obverse P1 indicates that the sequence listed below is correct. However, the differences are minute, and open to interpretation. Suffice it to say that we took our best shot.

Emission Order
Die Marriage
1 OC-P1
2 OC-P2 Reduction of the unfinished area under the chin indicates that OC-P2 followed OC-P1.

1861 Quick Finder Chart

Attribution of 1861 die marriages can be difficult. See our comments in the 1861 Die Marriage section above. Neither the obverse nor reverse dies display major markers. Date positions are different enough to allow attribution, but the differences are minor, so care must be taken. The following table lists the keys for identifying each variety.

Die Marriage

Obv Die

Rev Die

Base of 1


OC-1 1 A LE Obverse:   Vertically centered date.
Reverse:   A light die line slants down to the right in the upper right corner of the 7th shield recess.
OC-2 2 B RE Obverse:   Date slants VS down. A tiny lump at the base of the unfinished area under the chin.
Reverse:   A tiny lump at the top of the branch just left of the left claw.
OC-3 3 C JL of C Obverse:   1st 1 is JL of C and slightly low. 2nd 1 is centered.
Reverse:   No notable markers.
OC-4 4 D JL of C Obverse:   Low date. Faint die lines from the denticles below the heel.
Reverse:   No notable markers.
OC-P1 P1 PA B Obverse:   Very low date.
Reverse:   Slightly unfinished between the leaves.
OC-P2 P1 1856 PA B Obverse:   Very low date.
Reverse:   Die rust lumps on the L in DOL and the first S in STATES.

Photo credits:

Obverse and reverse full photos:   1861 NGC MS65, ex. Quellar, from the Heritage archives.

Copyright © 2015-2021, by Dick Osburn and Brian Cushing, All rights reserved.