In the No Motto New Orleans eagle series (produced from 1841 through 1860), there are two well-known rarities: the 1841-O and the 1859-O. The next rarity tier consists of four issues—the 1849-O, 1852-O, 1856-O, and 1857-O—which are extremely hard to locate in About Uncirculated and which are essentially unavailable in Uncirculated. Of these four, I have seen fewer nice 1849-O eagles than any of the other three dates.
A total of 23,900 eagles were made at the New Orleans mint in 1849-O. I believe that there are as many as 100-125 known but this figures is misleading as the vast majority grade Very Fine or Extremely Fine. There are an estimated 13-17 known in About Uncirculated, and I doubt if more than two or three of these are what I would define as “choice, original” coins. There are just two or three 1849-O eagles of which the finest is the PCGS MS61 I sold to a California collector in 2006; it was earlier lot 637 in the November 2000 Bass III sale where I paid $21,850 for it.
The 1849-O has a very distinctive appearance and I would rate it as the single worst-struck gold coin of any denomination from the New Orleans mint. The obverse has an unusual flat appearance with sunken fields and very little detail seen on the radial lines in the stars. This same appearance is seen on the 1848-O eagle, but the 1849-O has other issues which we will discuss in a second.
For some reason, the 1849-O eagle was a roughly handled issue. In addition to seeing very active use in commerce, it was abused by collectors with many having been harshly cleaned. I have seen very few which had positive eye appeal and even the comparatively high-grade pieces in holders show detracting, deep abrasions.
The rarity of this date is borne out by its low population figures. As of March 2017, PCGS had grades three in AU58 and just two in Uncirculated: an MS60 and an MS61. NGC had graded five in AU58 and two in Uncirculated: an MS60 and an MS61.
If a choice AU55 were to come on the market, it would attract little attention and would likely sell for a reasonable mid-to-high four figure price. I contend that such a coin should cause considerable excitement…at least among anyone else besides me!