Nice coin, Mark. You have a $2.50 gold quarter eagle. There are also $5 and $10 half eagles and eagles, shown on this CoinQuest page.
A US $2.50 gold piece contains 0.121 troy ounces of gold. Multiply that by the current spot price of gold (you can find that number at kitco.com, it changes daily) then add $100 US dollars to get a ballpark retail value for your gold piece. If your coin is fully, absolutely uncirculated, add $200 instead of $100.
For instance, if the spot price is $960 US dollars per troy ounce, then an uncirculated coin would be worth about 0.121 x 960 + 200 = $316. The $200 added value can be more if the coin has exceptional eye appeal. The $960 gold value in our example applies today's (when this appraisal was written). Be sure to look up the current gold price. It may be dramatically different.
DO NOT CLEAN YOUR COIN. CLEANING RUINS VALUE.
Just about all dates of quarter eagles are evaluated using the method above. Here are some rules for finding more valuable coins:
1. 1841, 1854S, 1864, 1865, 1866, 1875, 1881, and 1885 are better dates. The generally are worth 1000s of dollars. Write to CoinQuest for a quote is you have one of these.
2. Coins with C (Charlotte) and D (Dahlonega) mint marks on the reverse under the eagle, are more valuable than coins with O (New Orleans), S (San Fransisco), and no (Philadelphia) mint marks. For C and D mint marks add another $250 dollars to the value.
3. Coins dated before 1847 are a wee bit more valuable than later dates, even without a mint mark.
4. From 1859 to 1861 the US mint issued gold quarter eagles with both New Reverses and Old Reverses. This kind of thing happens once in a while, and collectors love these rare minting varieties.
To determine the reverse on your 1859 to 1861 quarter eagle, compare your coin to the chopped picture. The places to look for New and Old Reverses are at the U in UNITED STATES and the last A in AMERICA. These letters are much closer to the eagle design in the Old Reverse compared to the New Reverse. The Old Reverse it is worth about twice as much as the New Reverse.
Remember that the values on this page are catalog values. For an explanation about converting inflated catalog values to actual buy and sell values, see our Important Terminology page (link at upper left).
The presence or absence of luster is the best way to tell if a coin is approaching uncirculated state. The coin in the primary (larger, above) picture has some luster near the outside, that is, near the rim. But the luster has been worn off toward the center. This coin is in Almost Uncirculated (AU) condition. Luster is is best described as 'creamy' rather than 'shiney' or 'polished.' In fact, shining or polishing a coin destroys its numismatic value.
If you inspect the coin in our secondary (smaller, to the left) picture closely, you can see some nice luster at about 1 o'clock on the obverse (heads side), and the stars around the edge look crisp and bold. However, there is wear over Miss Liberty's ear, and a few small scratches on and near her face. The eagle's right leg has all the feathers worn smooth. This is a coin in average circulated condition.
As with all valuable coins, you must recognize that counterfeits exist. This picture shows a fake US $1 gold piece. It is an obvious replica, not the real thing. Many counterfeits are not obvious at all.