I’ve heard it said many times that, “All the great coins can only be found at auction.”
As my recent experience at the 2013 FUN show in Orlando will prove, this is far from the truth. At this show—and at most other major conventions—I am able to purchase great coins via private treaty from dealers and collectors. Many of these are fresh as the proverbial daisy having either never appeared at auction before or, if they have, many years ago.
As a dealer who specializes in choice and rare 18th and 19th century United States gold coins, I have a special place in my heart for important coins from the Eliasberg sale. Held in October 1982 by Bowers and Ruddy, this was arguably the single greatest collection of gold coins sold in the modern era. Unlike many other great gold sales, the Eliasberg pedigree is synonymous with high quality and, in most cases, when I see a coin is ex: Eliasberg, I get the mental picture of a very high end piece for the date.
On the first day of the FUN show, I got a text message from a dealer who I have known for many years and who I do business with from time to time. He told me to come to his table to look at a group of coins and I went there quickly as I know this dealer isn’t someone who will waste my time with marginal stuff.
When he showed me the small group of coins, my heart skipped a beat as the group contained a number of New Orleans gold coins that I immediate recognized as being from the famous Eliasberg sale. One of these coins was something that I had been chasing since the mid-1990’s. That was the good news. The bad news was that this dealer is one of the very smartest guys in the coin business and he is not exactly known for giving things away. I knew I had to buy these coins; it was just a question of how much would I have to pay.
I’m going to discuss these coins in some detail. Since they are already sold, I’m not going to reveal what I paid for them but I will discuss how I figured values for each.
1842-O Half Eagle, Graded MS63 by NGC/CAC approved
The New Orleans mint produced a total 16 Liberty Head half eagles from 1840 to 1894, in two different designs. The No Motto coins, issued from 1840 to 1857, tend to be scarcer than their counterparts from Charlotte and Dahlonega and nearly all are very rare in Uncirculated.
The 1842-O is the second rarest half eagle from this mint. Of the 16,400 struck there are around five or six dozen known. When available, the typical 1842-O is very well-worn with most in the VF-EF range. In About Uncirculated, the 1842-O half eagle is quite rare with probably less than a dozen properly graded pieces known. But in Uncirculated, this date is of the highest rarity.
There are exactly three 1842-O half eagles known in Uncirculated: an NGC MS63 (the present coin), a PCGS MS61, and an NGC MS60. Remarkably, I have now sold all three of these coins, meaning that there are no longer any Uncirculated pieces available.
Of the three known in Uncirculated, this example is the finest and it has a wonderful pedigree. It was last sold in Stack’s May 1995 auction for $31,900 as part of the famous collection of No Motto half eagles owned by the late dealer Ed Milas. It was earlier in the Eliasberg collection where it brought a whopping $3,850 in October 1982. Eliasberg obtained the coin from the Clapp collection and it was first recorded in the George Earle collection sale of June 1912, conducted by Henry Chapman.
A number of things appealed to me about this coin as I made the decision to purchase it. The first was that I would be able to sell it. I had a specific collector in mind but even if he passed on it, I had enough confidence in the coin to buy it “on spec.” Probably even more important was that I loved the coin when I first saw it two decades ago and I loved it even more when it reappeared. It was still in the same old NGC “fatty” holder in which it appeared in the 1995 Milas sale and, even without having access to that catalog, I knew that it had not been messed with.
As you can see from the photo above, the most remarkable thing about this coin is its color. Both the obverse and reverse have splendid rich orange-gold and coppery color. If you don’t know what “real” color on a gold coin of this era is supposed to look like (and many collectors, I’m afraid, do not…) take a careful look at the toning pattern and the hues on this coin. Note how the color is perfectly blended and how it lays on the surfaces. Note how it doesn’t suddenly become darker exactly where there is a mark (as on coin where color is applied to masks flaws). And note the richness and the “purity” of the color.
Having sold the other two Mint State 1842-O half eagles, I had a good idea of the “base line” value for a high grade 1842-O. Knowing this, I factored in the amazing appearance of the coin, its pedigree and its numismatic significance as the finest known example of a truly rare coin. This was an easy decision for me to make and I doubt that there will be many New Orleans half eagles that I buy in 2013 with more panache than the Eliasberg 1842-O half eagle.
1844-O Half Eagle, Graded MS64 by NGC/CAC Approved
By the standards of New Orleans No Motto half eagles, the 1844-O is a “common” coin. It is plentiful in circulated grades and available, from time to time, in the lower Uncirculated grades. There are an estimated two to three dozen in Mint State with most in the MS60 to MS62 range. In MS63 the 1844-O is rare and it is very rare in MS64 with around five or six known to me. There is a single Gem known (graded MS65 by PCGS) and it is ex Bass II: 937 where it sold for a reasonable $34,500. A few years ago, it was re-offered to me by a Midwestern dealer for a six-figure sum.
In my opinion, this NGC MS64 has the best pedigree of any 1844-O half eagle. It was last sold as Lot 457 in Stack’s Milas collection in May 1995 where it brought $20,900. Before this, it was Lot 434 in the October 1982 Eliasberg sale, where it brought $4,620. It was earlier in the Clapp collection and it is not pedigreed prior to be obtained by the Clapp family.
As with the 1842-O half eagle described above, this coin was in the same old NGC “fatty” holder in which it had resided when offered in the May 1995 Milas sale. It was a degree of comfort to me to know that it hadn’t changed in appearance since then.
This coin had a very different look than the 1842-O. Where the first half eagle was all about its color, this 1844-O was more about its blazing mint luster. Unlike some of the high grade 1844-O half eagles which I have handled, this piece was very frosty in texture; most of the others are grainier and present a different appearance. The Milas/Eliasberg 1844-O half eagle had lovely light to medium yellow-gold color and really the only thing keeping it from an MS65 grade was a few small marks in the left obverse field.
While the purchase of the 1842-O half eagle was a no-brainer, I had to think a little bit harder about this coin. I generally don’t care for common dates in uncommon grades. But how often do you see any No Motto half eagle in real MS64, let alone one from New Orleans? So I thought for another two or three seconds…then happily bought the coin.
1841-O Eagle, Graded AU58 by PCGS/CAC approved
Every dealer and many collectors have coins that are White Whales. If you don’t get that Ahab-ian reference, I mean an elusive coin that you are literally on a quest to buy, even if it takes years to track down. And when it becomes available…Ahab-ian things can and will happen.
While still not that widely known, the 1841-O eagle is among the most numismatically significant gold coins from the New Orleans mint. It is the first eagle struck at this mint and only 2,500 were made. It would remain the largest coin struck at a southern branch mint until 1850, when the double eagle denomination was introduced to New Orleans.
Of the 21 No Motto eagles from New Orleans, the 1841-O is the second rarest in overall rarity with around 60-70 known. This is an issue which was placed immediately into circulation and it saw hard use. When available, an 1841-O is likely to grade VF and a decent-looking EF coin is very scarce. In higher grades, I regard this issue as the single rarest eagle from New Orleans. It is unknown in Uncirculated and I believe that there are only two properly graded AU55 and finer pieces known: a PCGS AU55 in a California collection which I sold in 2007 and the present example. Having now owned both of them, I can pretty boldly pronounce that the PCGS AU58 is clearly the finest known.
If you have ever seen a typical quality 1841-O eagle, you are aware that this date just doesn’t have very good eye appeal. Most are very heavily worn and extensively abraded. More significantly, most have been processed and stripped to the point where they have zero original luster or surfaces. And that fact makes the existence of this choice 1841-O so miraculous.
While it is “only” graded AU58 by PCGS, I feel that this coin is actually Uncirculated as it has no real wear. Because of the fact that it is semi-prooflike, the surfaces appear a bit more abraded than they are in person. When I first saw this coin two decades ago, I thought it was a “baggy Unc” and I still believe this today; probably even more so.
The pedigree of this 1841-O is impressive. It was last sold as Lot 6238 in the Heritage 10/95 auction as part of Warren Miller’s collection (a set of Liberty Head eagles that is still probably the finest ever assembled). It was earlier sold as Lot 934 in Stack’s 10/86 auction and before this it was Lot 665 in the Eliasberg sale where it brought $4,400. Eliasberg bought it as part of the Clapp collection in 1942 and it was earlier purchased from the Massachusetts dealer Elmer Sears in 1920.
Of the three coins, this was the hardest to buy as it was many multiples more expensive than any other example of this date which has ever sold. But it was the coin I wanted the most. So how did I justify paying what I did?
In the last few years, the 1883-O has become the coin du jour of all New Orleans eagles. At least two AU58’s have sold for over $100,000 and this is a coin that is clearly more available in comparably higher grades than the 1841-O. I asked myself: “Self, what coin would you rather have: an AU58 1841-O eagle or an 1883-O eagle?” The answer was almost immediate: the 1841-O is an issue which I think has more upside than the 1883-O and it is an issue that is rarer; despite the very low mintage for the latter. I sucked it up, wrote a check and haven’t looked back since…
So how was your FUN show? Mine was pretty incredible actually. I was able to buy many, many impressive coins there but the three which will stand in my memory are these wonderful New Orleans pieces from the Eliasberg. This is what makes being a coin dealer fun and why I still look forward to major coin shows even after all the years I’ve spent going to them.
For more information on great New Orleans gold coins, Eliasberg pedigree gold coins or cool coins in general, please feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.