Assembling a New Orleans Gold Coin Type Set

Due to the various denominations and designs struck at the New Orleans mint, assembling a type set of gold coins from this facility is extremely popular with collectors. This mode of collecting makes even more sense when realizes the difficulty and expense of acquiring New Orleans gold coins on a date-by-date basis. Gold coins were struck at the New Orleans mint from 1839 until 1909. Six different denominations were produced: gold dollar, quarter eagle, three dollar, half eagle, eagle and double eagle. There were a total of twelve major types produced, and these are as follows:

    Type One gold dollar, 1849-1853

    Type Two gold dollar, 1855 only

    Classic Head quarter eagle, 1839 only

    Liberty Head quarter eagle, 1840-1857

    Three Dollar gold piece, 1854 only

    Liberty Head half eagle, no motto reverse, 1840-1857

    Liberty Head half eagle, with motto reverse, 1892-1894

    Indian Head half eagle, 1909 only

    Liberty Head eagle, no motto reverse, 1841-1860

    Liberty Head eagle, with motto reverse, 1879-1906

    Type One Liberty Head double eagle, 1850-1861

    Type Three Liberty Head double eagle, 1879 only

There are a number of reasons why collecting New Orleans gold coins by type purposes is sensible for most collectors.

Affordability: High grade examples of these types can be obtained, in many cases, for $5,000-10,000. This means that a very nice twelve coin type set can be assembled for less than $100,000.

Variety: Since each major type of New Orleans gold coin has a significantly different appearance, the collector can assemble a set that is richly varied.

Distinctiveness: Five of the twelve New Orleans gold coins mentioned above are distinct one-year types, meaning that they were produced only in a single year. This adds quite a bit of historic interest to a New Orleans type set.

Completeability: None of these twelve types is so rare or expensive that the collector of average means cannot put a nice example into his or her set. With a date set, there are always issues that are so hard to obtain that they are "stoppers" for many collectors.

A brief discussion of each of the twelve major types of New Orleans gold coins should prove useful for new collectors.

1. Type One Gold Dollar: The gold dollar denomination was introduced in 1849. The first major type was produced from 1849 until 1854 and it has a small liberty head on the obverse. New Orleans produced Type One gold dollars for five years. The 1850-O is by far the scarcest of these issues but a very nice example can be purchased for under $5,000. Mint State-63 to Mint State-64 examples of the other dates (except the 1852-O) can be had for $3,000-7,000. I personally like the 1849-O as a type coin since it is a first-year-of-issue.

2. Type Two Gold Dollar: This is a one-year type that was produced only in 1855. It is relatively common in circulated grades but it is rare in the lower Uncirculated grades and very rare in Mint State-63 or better. It is extremely hard to locate a nice piece that is well struck and has original color and surfaces. For most collectors, an example in the Mint State-60 to Mint State-62 range will suffice and such a coin is valued in the $5,000 to 10,000+ range.

3. Classic Head Quarter Eagle: The Classic Head New Orleans quarter eagle of 1839 is similar in rarity and historic profile to the 1855-O gold dollar. The 1839-O quarter eagle is a popular one-year design type that is not really rare in circulated grades and can sometimes be found in the lower range of Uncirculated. It becomes rare in Mint State-62 and is very rare in Mint State-63 or better. A nice Mint State-60 to Mint State-62 is valued in the $5,000-10,000 range.

4. Liberty Head Quarter Eagle: A total of fourteen different quarter eagle issues were struck at the New Orleans mint between 1840 and 1857. This includes a Small Date and Large Date variety in 1843. The most common issues in higher grades are the 1843-O Small Date, 1854-O and 1857-O while the rarest are the 1840-O, 1842-O and the 1845-O. I would suggest that the type collector seek a coin like an 1843-O Small Date or an 1854-O in Mint State-62 for his set. When available, such a piece sells for $2,500-3,500 and is very good value.

5. Three Dollar Gold Piece: This is the third one-year type in the New Orleans set. It was produced only in 1854. The 1854-O three dollar gold piece is common in Very Fine and Extremely Fine and only slightly scarce in the lower About Uncirculated grades. It becomes very scarce in About Uncirculated-55 to About Uncirculated-58 and it is extremely rare in Uncirculated. A Mint State-60 to Mint State-61 coin, if available, will cost in the area of $20,000 and will prove to be among the most difficult pieces for the type collector to acquire. Nice About Uncirculated-55 to About Uncirculated-58 pieces range from $5,000 to $10,000+.

6. No Motto Liberty Head Half Eagle: Thirteen No Motto half eagles were struck between 1840 and 1857. This includes Large Letters and Small Letters varieties from 1843. The two most common dates are the 1844-O and the 1854-O while the rarest are the 1842-O and the 1847-O. All No Motto half eagles from this mint are scarce in Mint State-60 to Mint State-62 and all are very rare in Mint State-63 or better. An 1844-O in Mint State-60 to Mint State-62 would be a perfect type coin and would cost between $4,000 and $7,500. The only other issue that is sometimes seen in Uncirculated is the 1854-O.

7. With Motto Liberty Head Half Eagle: This type was produced for just three years: 1892, 1893 and 1894. The rarest of these is the 1892-O while the most common is the 1893-O. For type purposes, most collectors look for either an 1893-O or an 1894-O. Both are common in all circulated grades and modestly scarce in Mint State-60 to Mint State-62. They are very rare in Mint State-63 and excessively rare above this. A nice Mint State-62 example of the 1893-O or 1894-O half eagle is currently very good value in the $2,000-2,500 range.

8. Indian Head Half Eagle: The 1909-O is the only one-year half eagle type from New Orleans. It is also regarded as one of the rarest Indian Head half eagles in high grades. Most 1909-O half eagles grade Extremely Fine-45 to About Uncirculated-55. This is a scarce coin in About Uncirculated-58, a rare one in the lower Uncirculated grades and a very rare issue in Mint State-63 or better. A nice Mint State-60 to Mint State-62 example should cost in the area of $5,500 to $10,000+.

9. No Motto Liberty Head Eagle: There were twenty-one different No Motto eagles struck at the New Orleans mint between 1841 and 1860. This includes a Large Date and Small Date variety in 1854. The rarest issues of this type are the 1841-O and the 1859-O while the most available dates are the 1847-O and the 1851-O. While a number of these issues have reasonably high mintage figures, Eagles were a workhorse denomination in local commerce. This resulted in most issues being well circulated. In addition, many coins were melted. As a result, any Uncirculated no motto New Orleans eagle is very scarce. A nice Mint State-60 to Mint State-62 piece should be available in the $5,000 to $10,000 range.

10. With Motto Liberty Head Eagle: After the end of the Civil War, the New Orleans mint was closed. It did not resume coinage until 1879. From this year until 1906, a total sixteen different With Motto Liberty Head eagles were produced. The major rarities of this type are the 1879-O and the 1883-O while a number of issues, such as the 1903-O, 1904-O and the 1906-O, can be located in grades up to and including Mint State-63 without much effort. Any date of this type in Mint State-64 is quite rare and gems, while more available than other large denomination New Orleans gold coins, are still very rare and desirable. A common date example in Mint State-63 is currently valued at $1,500 to $2,000 and in Mint State-64 at $4,500-6,000+.

11. Type One Liberty Head Double Eagles: This type was struck from 1850 to 1861. There were a total of twelve issues produced. This includes two legendary rarities: the 1854-O and the 1856-O. For type purposes, the two most practical dates are the 1851-O and the 1852-O. These are common in lower grades, scarce in the higher About Uncirculated grades and very rare in Mint State-60 or better. A Mint State-60 to Mint State-62 examples of one of these two issues is valued at $12,500-22,500. Most other Type One double eagles from this mint are extremely rare in Uncirculated and are not practical for a type set.

12. Type Two Liberty Head Double Eagles: Only 2,325 Type Three double eagles were struck at this mint and all were produced in 1879. The 1879-O is a rare and very popular coin whose status is enhanced as a one-year type. When available, this coin is typically seen in the Extremely Fine-40 to About Uncirculated-50 range. There are only four to six known in Uncirculated and the finest of these sold at auction for $115,000 in late 2001. In most type collection of New Orleans gold coins, this will be one of the few pieces that are not Uncirculated. A nice mid-range About Uncirculated example should cost $15,000 to $20,000.

In my opinion, the basic twelve coin New Orleans type set is a very interesting option for the collector. The price ranges listed above are for high end examples, and this set could be assembled for $30,000-40,000+ if Extremely Fine-45 to About Uncirculated-55 pieces are substituted for such expensive types as the three dollar gold pieces and the Type One and Type Three double eagles.