Let’s say an upscale collector makes a decision to put together a complete 13 coin set of New Orleans double eagles. Putting monetary concerns aside (for the sake of this blog, we’re going to say that this collector has the necessary funds) is it possible in 2018 to even bother to attempt this project? Before we explore the date-by-date possibilities, let’s give this hypothetical set a few important parameters:
All the coins must have above-average eye appeal. They may not be 100% original but they show a majority of their original color and “skin.”
Where possible, they are either CAC approved or if not stickered than just shy of being “stickerable.”
The coins must grade at least EF45 to AU50 but the overall appearance is more important than the technical grade.
1850-O: This date is essentially unavailable in Uncirculated but it is available in the lower-to-mid AU grades. CAC has approved 17 in AU (but only 5 in AU55 to AU58) and I am aware of nice AUs still being located in overseas sources. Our hypothetical collector would have to budget in the $15,000-25,000 range to locate a nice example, but with potentially a few dozen choice, original pieces known, I would say that this is a reasonably easy date to acquire.
1851-O: This is the most available New Orleans double eagle both in terms of high grade and overall rarity. CAC has approved 51 in AU grades plus another 3 in Uncirculated. This date is still found in overseas sources and I would estimate that there are a few hundred known which qualify as "choice and original." Our hypothetical collector could obtain a perfectly acceptable 1851-O for around $10,000, and this would be an easy coin to acquire.
1852-O: The 1852-O is the second most available New Orleans double eagle. As with the 1851-O, it is found in overseas sources; sometimes in grades as high as AU55-AU58. CAC has approved 34 in AU with most in the 55/58 range (which is suggestive of resubmissions) plus 3 more in Uncirculated. There are a few hundred known which qualify as “choice and original” and as with the 1851-O, a collector can expect to obtain a really nice piece for $10,000 and up.
1853-O: The 1853-O is by no means a rare issue but it is not easy to find very attractive, choice, original pieces; especially in AU55 and higher grades. Only 12 have been approved by CAC in AU, with just 4 in AU55 to AU58. This issue presents a bit of a conundrum for the quality-conscious collector. A nice EF45 shouldn’t be that hard to find and it will run around $10,000. But most higher-end collectors are going to want at least an AU53 to AU55, and these are very hard to locate with natural color and choice surfaces. It will require an outlay of $20,000-30,000 for the right 1853-O, and it will require a lot of patience to wait for that exact coin.
1854-O: And with this rarity we get the Murderer’s Row dates which extend basically through the end of the series. The 1854-O is one of the rarer Liberty Head gold issues of any denomination with fewer than 40 known. Of these, I doubt if there are as many as 6 or 7 which I would call “cosmetically appealing,” and even some of these might not get universal nods of approval from all potential buyers. Ironically, some of the more aesthetically pleasing 1854-O double eagles I have seen are in the EF range, and most of the higher grades pieces are less choice. CAC has stickered a single 1854-O (a VF30), but I think many of the better pieces haven’t been sent in due too insurance concerns. The bottom line is that it is sort of/kind of possible to acquire a decent 1854-O (at a cost of $250,000-350,000++), but the few nice-ish coins which exist are likely in tightly-held hands.
1855-O: I regard this as the third rarest New Orleans double eagle, and it is clearly among the hardest dates to locate with choice surfaces and natural color. I have handled 3-4 nice EF pieces (including 2 EF45s with CAC approval) but the vast majority of the AUs I have seen have been dipped and/or processed. I doubt if there are as many as 5 AUs known which would meet the parameters set forth in the beginning of this blog and, in total, fewer than 10 choice coins exist for this date. A “special” EF might possibly be available, and such a coin will cost at least $30,000-40,000. If a really nice AU did turn up (possibly from Europe although I am not aware of many 1855-O double eagles having been repatriated) I would expect it to bring in the $60,000-80,000 range.
1856-O: Some experts rate the 1856-O as the rarest O-Mint $20.00; I think it is just a hair less rare than 1854-O, but it is probably rarer in AU50 and up. There are 2 great coins known: the PCGS SP63, and the Hansen/Crawford PCGS AU58+ (as well as 2-3 other AU pieces which I regard as nicer than average). This makes at least 4 or 5 above-average 1856-O double eagles, plus there are another 3 or 4 in EF which I find appealing. CAC has approved 4 in total (none higher than AU50) but—as with the 1854-O—I think some potentially “stickerable” coins have not yet been seen by this firm. Our hypothetical collector should be able to acquire an above-average 1856-O if he has $250,000-350,000 available, and if he has the patience, the right coin should become available.
1857-O: The 1857-O is a scarce issue (and a very rare in higher grades) but thanks to overseas finds and shipwrecks, the number of reasonably nice to nice coins is greater than one might imagine. This is supported by the fact that CAC has approved a surprisingly high 20 coins including 13 in AU (plus 2 in Uncirculated). This means that the picky collector will be able to locate a nice 1857-O in the EF40 to AU55 range without a great deal of trouble. In fact, locating a CAC-stickered or a CAC-worthy example will not be much more difficult to locate than the far more common 1850-O and 1853-O double eagles. A solid EF 1857-O should cost in the $10,000-15,000 range, while an AU will run in the $20,000-40,000 range.
1858-O: The 1858-O is comparable in overall and high-grade rarity to the 1858-O. For some reason, the CAC population is much lower than it is for the 1858-O (10 versus 20; this might be the result of resubmissions for the 1857-O), and no Uncirculated 1858-O has yet to receive approval at CAC. That said, I have seen a decent number of reasonably nice 1858-O double eagles and examples are still being located in overseas sources. My gut feeling is that there are at least 15 reasonably nice 1858-O double eagles extant, with the number pretty evenly divided between EFs and AUs. An 1858-O which is nice enough for our hypothetical set should cost around the same as listed above for the 1857-O.
1859-O: This issue is rare both from an overall and high-grade perspectives. The 1859-O was handled roughly, and as a result, most examples are densely abraded. Couple this with frequent cleanings and harsh processing and you have an issue which is very infrequently seen with good eye appeal. I have personally seen around a half dozen 1859-O double eagles which I would call “nice,” and the total number approved at CAC is 8 - with all but 1 of these graded in the AU50-AU58 range. I am a little surprised that no EFs have been approved by CAC, but then again, most real EF45 1859-O double eagles are in AU50 or AU53 holders. The serious collector is going to find this date to be a real challenge and he will have to budget at least $50,000-60,000++.
1860-O: The 1860-O is similar in overall rarity to the 1859-O, and it is even harder to locate in higher grades. The surfaces on virtually every known 1860-O are heavily abraded and many have been aggressively cleaned and retoned. This date seems to show up very infrequently—if ever—in overseas shipments of Type One double eagles, and my best guess is that well under 10 nice pieces are known. CAC has approved just 5 in all grades (with 2 in AU58) and the 3 or 4 nice to very nice 1860-O double eagles that I have handled have all been sold to serious collectors who appear to have no intention of selling them any time soon. This will likely prove to be among the more difficult coins in the set to locate with good eye appeal, and it will take at least 3-5 years of patient searching to locate the right coin. I would suggest budgeting $60,000-80,000++ for an 1860-O.
1861-O: The availability of this date is odd and interesting. In higher grades, the 1861-O is undeniably rare but in the last year I have seen at least five or six which I liked. In addition, the CAC population is a higher-than-supposed 17 with 10 in AU grades (but with known in Uncirculated). There are a ton of really ratty 1861-O double eagles known but there are a decent number of attractive to very attractive examples; maybe as many as 20-25 in total. This means that the 1861-O should be available in a reasonably short period of time and I’d suggest a budget of $50,000-70,000 for a nice piece.
1879-O: The 1879-O is the final issue in this set and it is a multiple-level-of-demand issue due to its status as the only Type Three double eagle from New Orleans. At one point this issue seemed reasonably available with good overall eye appeal, but as its value skyrocketed, it proved too tempting to leave original pieces alone and most were scrubbed to get into inflated-grade holders. Today, there may not even be 10 choice pieces known, and this includes some of the lower grade 1879-O double eagles which exist in the VF-EF range. CAC has approved a mere 5 with just 1 per grade from EF45 through AU58. To acquire a nice 1879-O, I’d suggest a budget of $50,000-60,000, and it will require at least 2-4 years of intensive searching.
So there you have it: 13 coins ranging from reasonably available to really, really hard to locate. To answer the question asked in the beginning of this blog, yes, I think a good to great set of New Orleans double eagles can be assembled in 2018 - BUT it is a challenge which requires deep pockets, lots of patience, and the participation of a well-connected, super-knowledgeable dealer.