To celebrate the publication of my new book on New Orleans gold coinage (click here for ordering information) I am going to feature a series of interesting blogs which touch on various aspects of these issues.
For my first effort, let’s keep it simple and focus on five issues which in my experience are not only undervalued but which are reasonably affordable as well.
1. 1856-O $2.50 in AU58
In my new edition of the New Orleans gold book, I rank the 1856-O as the second rarest quarter eagle from this mint, after the much better known 1845-O.
The 1856-O is fairly plentiful in the lower AU grades, and is seen even in AU55 on occasion. Properly graded AU58 examples are rare, and PCGS has graded just a dozen as such with four finer. CAC shows six approved in AU58 with three finer.
It is interesting to note that the last PCGS AU58 1856-O quarter eagle to sell at auction was all the way back in October 2010. In a quick search of my website archives, I note that I have handled five PCGS AU58 1856-O quarter eagles in the last decade.
Despite this date’s clear rarity, it still trades for less than $5,000 in PCGS AU58. The reason for this is that there are a number of badly overgraded AU58 examples in holders which drag down prices for this issue. The market seems to already recognize this and rewards nice quality AU58s.
2. 1843-O SMALL LETTERS $5.00 in AU55/58
I rank the 1843-O Small Letters as the third-rarest of 16 No Motto half eagles from New Orleans, after the 1842-O and the 1847-O, but ahead of such better known issues as the 1855-O, 1856-O, and 1857-O.
There were two varieties of half eagle struck at New Orleans in 1843, and the Small Letters is scarcer than its Large Letters counterpart. The 1843-O Small Letters is only moderately scarce in the EF45-AU53, range but I believe it is rare and much undervalued in the higher AU grades. Want proof? How about the fact that since the summer of 2004 there are just two auction records for this variety in the higher AU grades: one in 2018 for a PCGS AU55, and one in 2018 for a PCGS AU58.
Current PCGS population figures verify the rarity of the 1843-O Small Letters in these grades. There are five graded in AU55 and just a single coin graded AU58.
You would expect a popular coin like the 1843-O Small Letters to be expensive in AU55 and AU58 but this isn’t the case. An average-quality PCGS AU55 is currently worth around $4,000 (a nice CAC approved piece is worth more, obviously…) while the sole PCGS AU58 currently graded brought a reasonable $5,940 as Heritage 2015 FUN: 7059.
At current price levels, nice AU 1843-O Small Letters half eagles seem like extremely good value to me.
3. 1894-O $5.00 in MS62
Three With Motto half eagles were made at the New Orleans mint and the 1894-O is the second scarcest, after the 1892-O. The 1894-O is a misleading issue as it is easy to locate in the higher AU grades and it can be found in the MS60 to MS61 range without considerable effort.
Properly graded MS62 1894-O half eagles barely cause a ripple when they are offered for sale, but this is just about the best available grade for this numismatically significant issue (it is the final Liberty Head half eagle from New Orleans). PCGS has currently graded just 11 in MS62 (the exact same as NGC), while CAC has approved only three in MS62.
Since early 2010, there have been only three auction records for this date in PCGS and only one (Heritage 6/14: 5718) has occurred since 2011.
Given this information, you’d have to assume that a nice PCGS MS62 1894-O half eagle is a $5,000+ coin, and given the fact that it is virtually unavailable in grades higher than this you’d likely buy all that became available, right?
Few collectors realize how much of a condition rarity the 1894-O half eagle really is and in this market, you can expect to buy a nice PCGS (or NGC) MS62 for $3,500-4,000. In my opinion, this is excellent value and as the New Orleans half eagles become more avidly collected by date, I can see this coin showing good price appreciation.
4. 1854-O SMALL DATE $10.00 in AU55/58
As I selected these issues, I noticed something of a trend. When there are two distinct varieties of a specific issue exist, confusion sometimes exists around which of the two are scarcer. In the case of the 1854-O Small Date, I admit partial responsibility for this, as in my earlier books on New Orleans gold,I believed it was the Large Date and not the Small Date 1854-O eagle which was scarcer.
Current PCGS population data for this variety shows 14 graded in AU55 and nine in AU58, but this seems swollen by resubmissions. I base these on the fact that since 2011, only two AU55s have sold at auction (both NGC and both very low-end for the grade), while two AU58s have sold (one NGC and one PCGS).
I should add that the confusion I mentioned in the first paragraph about this variety sometimes is the result of PCGS being a late-adapter to designating a specific variety. This is not the case with the 1854-O eagle (or the 1843-O half eagle) as they have correctly identified both varieties since they began grading.
Nice AU55 and AU58 1854-O Small Date eagles remain affordable with the former currently valued in the $4,000-5,000 range and the latter valued at $6,000-8,000. It is interesting to note that the only Uncirculated 1854-O Small Date eagle to sell at auction in well over a decade brought $26,400 in the Heritage 2/18 sale; making a nice AU55 or AU58 seem even more of a comparatively excellent value.
5. 1859-O $10.00 in any grade
The title of this blog mentioned that I was going to focus on “reasonably affordable” issues. The 1859-O isn’t a cheap coin but I think it has become noticeably undervalued, especially in comparison to issues such as the 1883-O.
The 1859-O is the rarest No Motto New Orleans eagle in terms of overall rarity with an estimated 60-70 known from an original mintage of only 2,300 coins. I rank it as the second rarest date of this type from New Orleans in higher grades after the 1841-O.
Back when I wrote the earlier editions of this book, the 1859-O was a well-known date which was bringing $20,000-30,000 for examples graded AU50 to AU55. At the same time, dates such as the 1841-O and the 1883-O were available for under $20,000.
Take a look at the following PCGS grading figures from 9/18:
These figures show that all three of these key issues are rare and that the grade distribution is different for the 1841-O than it is for the 1859-O and the 1883-O. What it doesn’t tell collectors is that the “25” AU’s graded for the 1859-O is both heavily inflated by resubmissions and includes numerous extremely low-end pieces.
A nice PCGS-graded AU 1841-O $10—if you can find one—is going to cost you upwards of $50,000 in today’s market while a similar quality 1883-O will cost $75,000 or more. The last two nice 1859-O eagles I sold (a PCGS/CAC AU55 and a PCGS AU53 which didn’t sticker but which was extremely choice) both were priced at under $40,000.
The best comparable I can offer is the 1879-CC eagle; another issue which was formerly recognized as the key issue in its set but which has been out-priced in recent years by issues such as the 1870-CC, 1873-CC, and 1877-CC.
There are many other New Orleans issues which, in my opinion, are undervalued and I will touch on these in a future blog.
If you are interested in assembling a set of New Orleans gold coinage, or if you need help in obtaining issues which are undervalued, please feel free to contact me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.