For a variety of reasons (including some below), No Motto Liberty Head eagles are exceedingly rare in higher grades. Even “common” issues from Philadelphia produced in the 1840’s and 1850’s are rare in the lower Uncirculated grades and mostly unknown in MS63 to MS64; let alone in Gem.
As one would expect, the No Motto eagles from New Orleans are all but unknown in MS65 and higher. In fact there are exactly two No Motto New Orleans eagles currently known in Gem: the James Stack 1848-O (graded MS66 by both services), and the Eliasberg/Clapp/Earle 1850-O (graded MS65 by PCGS).
At the recent 2017 FUN show, Douglas Winter Numismatics purchased the above-referenced 1850-O eagle for a price which is likely a record for any business strike ten dollar gold piece from the New Orleans mint. The coin was then sold by DWN to a New England collection which contains the finest run of New Orleans gold coinage ever assembled.
This 1850-O eagle is a very famous coin. It had last appeared for sale in Superior Galleries’ May 1999 auction as Lot 3666 where it realized a strong $100,625. Before this, it had realized $37,400 as Lot 686 in Bowers and Ruddy’s October 1982 sale of the legendary Louis Eliasberg Sr. collection. It was earlier in the collection of John Clapp Jr. and John Clapp Sr. and it first public appearance was in Henry Chapman’s sale of the George Earle collection.
Why does this coin exist? Given that collecting gold coins by mintmark didn’t begin until the 1890’s and didn’t really become an integral part of the coin market until the post-World War II collecting boom, how did this coin survive? I don’t know the correct answer but I would surmise that one of two things happened. The first possibility is that a wealthy person in New Orleans was given this coin as a gift in 1850 (for a wedding or anniversary or graduation present?) and it was somehow carefully preserved until it entered the Earle collection before it was sold in 1912. The second—and more likely—possibility is that it was an Assay coin sent to the Philadelphia Mint in 1850 and someone kept it after it was assayed. It is my opinion that the small number of “freak” mintmarked gold coins from the 1850’s/1860’s/1870’s which exist are former Assay coins which were saved from melting and which later made their way into Philadelphia-area collections; likely channeled there through local dealers with strong Mint connections.
As a date, the 1850-O eagle is in the middle of the overall and high grade rarity rankings of the 21 No Motto issues from this mint. There are 200 or so known in all grades with the average coin grading Extremely Fine. The 1850-O eagle becomes rare in properly graded AU55 and it is very rare in AU58. There are only two unequivocally Uncirculated pieces known: the Eliasberg MS65 and a PCGS MS64 which was discovered within the last few years and was sold to a California collector.
The Eliasberg 1850-O is not only one of the two finest No Motto eagles from New Orleans which exists, I also think it is among the very finest No Motto eagles of any date. Just as a reference point, I’ve always regarded the Einstein/Gold Rush PCGS MS66 1852 as the single best No Motto eagle of any date; it last sold for $253,000 as Heritage 1/08: 3261.
There is much to admire about the appearance of the Eliasberg 1850-O eagle. It is obviously untouched since it was made with thick, frosty luster below rich green-gold and orange coloration. It has amazingly clean surfaces and it exhibits a better-than-average strike for the issue with stronger details seen in the stars than normal.
Even after three+ decades of handling important Liberty Head gold condition rarities, I still get a thrill when I am able to handle incredible pieces such as this Gem 1850-O eagle.
Are you interested in adding coins of this caliber to your collection? If the answer is “yes,” contact Doug Winter by phone at (214) 675-9897 and let’s discuss how we can work together.