In the last few years, New Orleans eagles have become very popular with collectors. These coins were struck (with interruptions) from 1841 to 1906 in two distinct design types. They can range in price from less than $1,000 to over $100,000. In short, they are very collectible and their history, heft and completability make them the New Orleans coins du jour.
The rarity of this series is not totally understood, even by specialists. Most collectors know that the 1859-O and the 1883-O are the kings, but few collectors are aware of which dates follow on their heels.
In this article, we’ll take a look at which 10 New Orleans eagles are the rarest, both in terms of total number known (overall rarity) and high-grade rarity (AU and higher for No Motto issues, MS60 and higher for most With Motto issues).
Please note that the following numbers are rarity estimates from my upcoming Third Edition book Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint, 1839-1909 and they are based on my research and personal observations.
VF: 10-12; EF: 20-25; AU: 13-15; MS: 2-3; Total: 45-55
The 1883-O has the lowest mintage figure of any business strike gold coin from New Orleans with a scant 800 struck. There are 45-55 known in total with perhaps a dozen or so representing coins from Europe or other overseas sources which have entered the market in the last decade+. I rank the 1883-O as the third rarest New Orleans eagle in high grades but it should be pointed out that nearly every piece in AU50 and finer grades suffers from poor eye appeal.
This date has become well-known in the last decade and prices have risen accordingly. A new auction record was set by the Heritage 2/18: 4312 coin from the Admiral Collection which realized $126,000. Considering that the 1883-O eagle is not that far removed from the 1854-O and 1856-O when it comes to overall rarity, I expect levels to increase as more well-heeled collectors become hooked by the challenging Liberty Head eagle set.
VF: 10-12; EF: 36-41; AU: 13-16; MS: 1; Total: 60-70
The 1859-O is the rarest No Motto eagle from New Orleans and it is the second rarest issue in high grades. Only 2,300 were produced and this date is almost never seen above AU50 to AU53, and even less often with natural color and choice surfaces. Most of the slabbed examples in the EF40 to AU53 range are overgraded, and pieces with good eye appeal are exceptionally difficult to locate.
I have sold a few very nice low-to-mid range AU 1859-O eagles in the last year for less than $40,000 and I think this represents terrific value for a coin which is so rare and so popular. The comparably rare 1859-O double eagle sells for nearly double the price.
VF: 37-42; EF: 20-24; AU: 8-10; MS: 0-1; Total: 65-75
Now we get to the esoteric issues in the New Orleans eagle series. The 1841-O is known for being the first eagle from this mint and a few people are aware that just 1,500 were struck. What most collectors don’t realize is that the 1841-O is decidedly the rarest New Orleans eagle of either type in high grades and it is extremely rare in properly graded AU55 and finer. In fact, I estimate that just 8-11 high grade pieces are known of which nearly all are off the market.
Two PCGS AU55 1841-O eagles traded for over $60,000 in the last two years, demonstrating the newfound respect that collectors have for this date. Given the fact that it is an issue with multiple levels of demand, I expect that nice 1841-O eagles will continue to sell for big bucks when they are offered.
VF: 5-7; EF: 35-40; AU: 28-30; MS: 2-3; Total: 70-80
You’ll notice that the 1879-O has a different grade distribution than the first three dates in this article. The 1879-O is almost never seen below EF45 which indicates that it was a date that didn’t see much circulation. And many of the EF45 to AU55 examples are net graded coins which show little wear but which have copious bagmarks and friction from bag handling. I believe that a few dozen 1879-O eagles have been repatriated from overseas sources and that a small number more could enter the market in the next decade.
There are more high grade 1879-O eagles known than nearly any other date in this group of ten but it should be pointed out that properly graded AU55 to AU58 pieces remain very rare and the 1879-O is exceedingly rare in Uncirculated.
VF: 25-30; EF: 55-70; AU: 18-23; MS: 2; Total: 100-125
This date and the next two (1856-O and 1857-O) are essentially tied in terms of their overall rarity. A compelling case can be made for the 1856-O and the 1857-O being rarer in high grades, and of the three the 1857-O is the only issue which remains (currently) unknown in Uncirculated. The 1855-O is seen mostly in VF and EF grades and the majority of the AUs are lower end coins with poor eye appeal. This date is very rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58 and I doubt if more than five or six nice pieces exist.
The 1855-O and 1856-O eagles remain overlooked and undervalued in virtually all grades (not so much the 1857-O, due primarily to its very low mintage figure). I expect that these issues will show price appreciation and increased demand as New Orleans eagles become even more popular with collectors as a result of the release of my new book.
VF: 35-45; EF: 45-55; AU: 17-22; MS: 3; Total: 100-125
You’ll note that the rarity of this date and the 1855-O are very similar as is the overall grade distribution. Both dates are almost impossible to locate in AU55 and finer, especially with choice surfaces and natural color. As with its counterpart the 1855-O, the 1856-O eagle remains an unheralded issue. I feel this is changing as more people focus on Liberty Head eagles and a number of new collectors specifically focus on the New Orleans issues.
A very presentable example of this date can still be acquired for between $5,000 and $10,000. By the standards of No Motto Liberty Head eagles, this isn’t a ton of money and if I were working on a set of these, I’d try my hardest to fill this hole now; before prices invariably take off.
VF: 20-30; EF: 55-65; AU: 25-30; MS: 0; Total: 100-125
A strong case can be made for calling this date the rarest of the 1855-O to 1857-O trio; certainly in terms of overall rarity. There are a few more nice AU58 1857-O eagles than there are of the 1855-O and 1856-O. However, while both the 1855-O and 1856-O exist in Uncirculated, the 1857-O remains unknown as such. Given the much lower mintage figure for the 1857-O (5,500 versus 14,500 for the 1856-O and 18,000 for the 1857-O) one would expect it to be noticeably scarcer in terms of its overall rarity.
The rarity of this date has been better recognized than the 1855-O and 1856-O and it is more expensive. There are a number of APRs for AU58s in the $20,000-30,000 range. I don’t mean to imply that the 1857-O is overpriced in AU58; there are likely no more than five or six properly graded pieces currently known. What I think this shows is that the 1855-O and the 1856-O are undervalued in this grade, and that the 1857-O is properly valued.
VF: 50-57; EF: 58-71; AU: 15-19; MS: 2-3; Total: 125-150
The 1849-O is an issue which appears to have been used in local commerce more than the eagles from the mid-to-late 1850s. As a result, it is seen most often in grades below AU50. This is compounded by the fact that the 1849-O is an oddly struck issue which tends to give the unfair impression of uneven wear (especially on the obverse) due to its manufacture. I rank the 1849-O as the fourth rarest New Orleans eagle from a high grade rarity standpoint, and it is very rare in properly graded AU55 and finer.
I’ve mentioned in this article that I expect the New Orleans eagle series to become more popular after the release of my New Orleans gold book this summer. How many new collectors could this market support? If we are talking about collector grades (VF and EF), I think a few dozen new collectors could enter the market without complete disruption. If we are discussing high-end coins (AU and Mint State) I doubt if more than two or three new collectors could participate without completely upending the market.
VF: 30-40; EF: 65-70; AU: 28-37; MS: 2-3; Total: 125-150
As you can see from the numbers in this article, there is very little difference between the 5th rarest New Orleans eagle and the 9th rarest. In fact, with new coins coming into the market from European bank hoards, these numbers could flip in the next few years. But I think it is likely that virtually every No Motto eagle from New Orleans is going to remain very scarce to rare in properly graded AU55 to AU58 (with the exception of the 1847-O and the 1851-O), and every date is likely to remain rare to very rare in Uncirculated (in my experience the Euro coins of this era tends to be AU55 at best and the few really nice Uncirculated New Orleans eagles of this type were never sent overseas).
The finest known 1852-O eagle appeared at auction in November 2016 and it realized a very strong $111,625 (it was in an OGH PCGS MS60 holder; I graded it 61+ to 62 and thought it was exceptional). That’s hardly the price of an “underappreciated” coin, but remember, this was a 1/0 PCGS coin with a great pedigree (ex Byron Reed) and exceptional eye appeal. The occasional nice $7,500 1852-O eagle comes around every now, and then and I regard an example at this price point to represent truly good value.
VF: 40-70; EF: 82-95; AU: 23-29; MS: 5-6; Total: 150-200
Starting with the 1846-O, the overall rarity of New Orleans eagles takes on a different character after the first nine issues on this list. The 1846-O is considerably more available than the 1849-O or the 1852-O and as you will note from the rarity information above, it is a condition rarity in the strictest sense of the word. The 1846-O is comparatively common in collector grades although most of the ones I see in VF or EF have terrible overall eye appeal. Properly graded AU55’s, however, are very rare and AU58’s are extremely rare.
There are two really nice Uncirculated 1846-O eagles: a PCGS MS64 and an NGC MS63PL. I have owned both at various times and they were previously in the Bass and Eliasberg collections. In fact, both were together from 1922 (when John Clapp Sr. bought the MS63PL out of the famous Ten Eyck sale) until late 2000 when they were sold—separately—in the Bass III auction. Today, both are owned by prominent collectors.
Are you interested in assembling a set of New Orleans eagles? How about working with the dealer who knows more about these coins than anyone else? Contact Doug Winter by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s your collecting goals.
This is your top-secret preview of the Third Edition of Doug's book, Gold Coins of the New Orleans Mint. Be sure to watch for a sales announcement after the ANA!