Collectors who like completable themed sets don’t have a ton of options if they are on a budget. Sure, there’s the Indian Head quarter eagle series; it is completable but the 1911-D is an expensive hole to fill. Or there are esoteric “subsets” like the San Francisco gold dollars and three dollars but these aren’t everyone’s first choice.
I’d like to propose a set that checks most collectors’ boxes: this set contains larger-sized coins, it is easily completable but can be made challenging, it appeals to collectors with reasonably low budgets, it contains both 19th and 20th century issues and these coins were produced at a popular Southern branch mint. Our focus is on the so-called “short set” of With Motto eagles struck at the New Orleans.
From 1888 to 1906, the New Orleans mint produced 11 eagles in comparatively large quantities. These issues differ from their No Motto (1841-1860) and early With Motto (1879-1883) predecessors in that they saw little circulation and are readily available in Uncirculated grades; often in the $1,250-2,500 per coin range.
The concept of the “short set” was first applied to Walking Liberty half dollars. This set took the issues made from 1941 through 1947 and placed them in a separate category. This made it possible for the collector of modest means to still complete a set with comparatively high grade coins. Given the rarity and cost of many of the Walkers from the 1910’s and 1920’s this was a marketing ploy which actually benefited the series and made late date Walkers very popular.
Pre-Civil War New Orleans eagles are extremely collectible but they are very rare in higher grades and the 21 issue No Motto series requires a large budget to complete in About Uncirculated and higher grades (an Uncirculated set can’t be completed even with an unlimited budget due to the extreme rarity of a number of dates).
I applied the short set concept to the 11 coin With Motto New Orleans eagle set a few years ago and it seems to have caught on as many collectors are now working on such a set. It is possible to sub-divide this set into three tiers: low budget ($1,000-1,500 per coin), intermediate budget ($1,500-3,000) and high budget ($5,000 and up).
Let’s take a quick look at each of the 11 coins in this short set and see how each should be approached by the various budget levels
1888-O: This is the only short set date from the 1880’s which makes it popular. The 1888-O is obtainable in AU and the lowest Uncirculated grades. It is moderately scarce in MS62, very scarce in MS63 and unobtainable finer than this. The low budget collector should shoot for an MS60 or an MS61 while the intermediate budget will focus on a nice, hand-selected MS62. High-budget collectors will wait for an MS63 which should be available for around $5,500-6,500+.
1892-O: The 1892-O is comparable in rarity to the 1888-O except for the fact that it is much scarcer coin in high grades (MS63 and finer). It can be located without much effort in the AU and lowest Uncirculated grades, while it is moderately scarce in MS62 and genuinely rare in MS63. An MS60 to MS61 will be within the budget of the less well-heeled collector while the intermediate collector will aspire to acquire an MS62. High-budget collectors will have a difficult time locating an MS63 and if available, it should cost in the $8,000-9,000 range.
1893-O: The 1893-O is virtually similar to the 1892-O in terms of rarity except that it is just a hair more available in MS63 (as with the 1892-O, this date is currently unknown in MS64 and above). The same comments made above for the 1892-O apply to this date. High-budget collectors will be able to acquire a nice MS63 for around $5,000, which seems like really good value to me.
1894-O: This date is scarcer than the preceding three but it is still affordable. A low-budget set collector can acquire an MS61 1894-O, while an intermediate collector can acquire an MS62. At one time, the 1894-O was impossible to find in MS63 but today—while scarce—a higher budget set can likely find one with patience for around $5,000-6,000.
1895-O: The 1895-O closely resembles the 1892-O and 1894-O in terms of overall and high-grade rarity. The 1895-O is easy to locate in AU and the lowest Uncirculated grades, while it is slightly scarce in properly graded MS62, very scarce in MS63, and unavailable finer. The low budget collector will purchase an MS61 while the intermediate set will contain an MS62. An MS63 is perfect for the higher-budget set, and such a coin will run around $5,000-6,000.
1897-O: The 1897-O is the second scarcest issue in the short set. It can be located in grades up to MS62 with some patience, while it is very scarce in MS63, and rare (but sometime seen) in MS64. The low budget collector will aim for an MS61 while the intermediate collection should focus on an MS62. A high budget collection should “stretch” on this desirable date and aim for an MS64 which is a $15,000+ coin.
1899-O: This date is by far the scarcest in the short set but even a low-budget collector will be able to afford an Uncirculated 1899-O eagle. This date becomes scarce in properly graded MS62 and it is rare in MS63. A few are known in MS64 and there is even a remarkable PCGS MS68+ which traces its pedigree to the Clapp and Eliasberg collections. A low-budget collection should include an MS60 to MS61, while an intermediate set will include an MS62. A high-budget collection can reach for either an MS63 (currently valued at around $8,000-9,000) or an MS64 which will run in the $25,000-30,000 range if available.
1901-O: The 1901-O, along with the 1903-O and 1904-O, is the most available eagle from this mint. It is common in grades up to MS62 and it can even be found in MS63 to MS64. Gems are non-existent. A low-budget collection will focus on an MS61 or MS62, while an intermediate budget should focus on an MS62 or MS63. A high-budget collection can add an MS64 example of this date for $7,000-8,000.
1903-O: I would rank the 1903-O as the most available eagle from New Orleans and it is a date which is popular with type collectors seeking an affordable, reasonably priced eagle from this mint. It can be located in grades up to MS63 and even MS64 pieces are available from time to time. I have never seen a Gem although a single PCGS MS66 is known. A budget collection will contain a nice MS62, while an intermediate collection will focus on an MS64. For a high-budget collection, I would recommend a hand-selected MS64 which will cost in the $4,000-5,000 range.
1904-O: The 1904-O is similar in overall and high grade rarity to the 1903-O. It is plentiful in the lower MS60 to MS62 grades, available in MS63, and it is rare yet affordable in MS64. A few Gems are known including one in MS67 and another in MS68. A budget collection should contain an MS62, while an intermediate collection will have a nice MS63. A high-budget collection can have either an MS64 (this will cost $7,000-8,000) or even an MS65 ($20,000 and up, if available).
1906-O: This is the final issue in this set and until recently it was a real “sleeper” meaning it was an undervalued date. The 1906-O is available in grades up to MS62 with little problem. This is a scarce date in MS63, and a very scarce one in MS64. A small number of Gems are known. A budget collector will focus on an MS61 or perhaps even an MS62 while an intermediate collection will have an MS63. An advanced collector will most likely focus on an MS64 which will cost $8,000-10,000. If available, a Gem (graded MS65) will run in excess of $20,000.
It won’t take long for a beginner or an intermediate collector to finish an 11 coin short set of With Motto New Orleans eagles. A nice beginner-level set should cost around $12,500-15,000 to assemble, while an intermediate set should cost between $22,500 and $27,500. The price of these two sets will increase if the coins are mostly CAC approved.
A world-class set which consists of 11 coins graded MS63 to MS65 (or higher) will be much more of a challenge, especially if CAC-approved coins are sought. I would expect a really first-rate set to run at least $80,000 to $90,000 and this number could easily be exceeded if a few “super-grade” pieces are included. If you are planning such an endeavor, it is important to work with a knowledgeable dealer.
It is my belief that this 11-coin set will become even more avidly collected in the near future. This is a great introduction to rare date gold collecting and Liberty Head eagles contain almost a full half ounce of gold which makes them intrinsically valuable enough to appeal to gold bugs with only a passing interest in numismatics.
Are you interested in assembling an 11-coin short set of With Motto New Orleans eagles? Contact Doug Winter—the dealer who “wrote the book” on New Orleans gold for collecting suggestions and for available coins. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.